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“An Antagonistic Relationship To The Truth”: Donald Trump Is A New Kind Of Dissembler

Most partisans would probably tell you that while their own party’s leaders sometimes get a fact wrong here or there, the other side is a bunch of blatant liars, whose contempt for the truth leaves the public in a perpetual cloud of misinformation. We don’t have to settle who’s right on this question to acknowledge that in politics, there are ordinary tale-tellers and then there’s Donald Trump. As he has in so many ways, Trump has upended the usual operation of politics by refusing to play by its rules, written or not.

The presumption that politicians should at least try to speak the truth as often as they can is something most everyone shares, whether Democrats, Republicans, or the news media that cover them. It’s that presumption that establishes a basic set of behaviors for all concerned—for instance, that news media will call out lies from politicians when they notice them, that the politicians will try to avoid getting caught in lies, and that when they do, they’ll avoid repeating the lie lest they be tagged forevermore as dishonest.

So what do you do when a candidate makes it clear that not only does he not care about the truth, he doesn’t care whether everybody knows it? This is the dilemma of covering Donald Trump.

Trump is distinctive in more than one way. First, there’s the sheer breadth and character of his falsehoods. Absurd exaggerations, mischaracterizations of his own past, distortions about his opponents, descriptions of events that never occurred, inventions personal and political, foreign and domestic, Trump does it all (you can peruse Politifact’s Trump file if you doubt).

In this, he differs from other candidates, who usually have had one distinctive area of dishonesty that characterized them. Some hid things they were embarrassed about or thought would damage them politically, some deceived about their personal histories in order to paint a flattering picture of themselves, and others spun a web of falsehood to gain the public’s assent for policies they suspected might not otherwise gain public support. But there has simply never been a candidate who has lied as frequently, as blatantly, and as blithely as Trump.

Then there’s the fact that even when Trump gets caught lying, he keeps on repeating the lie. How often does he say that The Art of the Deal is “the number one best-selling business book of all time”? (It isn’t.) How many times did he claim that thousands of Muslim Americans gathered on rooftops in New Jersey to cheer the collapse of the World Trade Center, no matter how often he was told it never happened? He has said over and over that he was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War before it began, despite the fact that it’s utterly false. This is one of his most spectacular fabrications, because he even claims that “I was visited by people from the White House asking me to sort of, could I be silenced because I seem to get a disproportionate amount of publicity.” Although we know he got no publicity for his fictional opposition to the Iraq War because people have checked and he didn’t, I have to admit that I can’t prove definitively that the Bush administration never sent a delegation to plead with Trump to stop his nonexistent criticism of the war. But the idea is so preposterous that no sane person could believe it. And that was before he charged that Ted Cruz’s father was an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald and may have had something to do with the Kennedy assassination.

Unfortunately, as Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler notes, “Trump makes Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again, even though fact checkers have demonstrated them to be false. … But, astonishingly, television hosts rarely challenge Trump when he makes a claim that already has been found to be false.” Just yesterday on Meet the Press, Trump claimed that he wants to change the voting system so that undocumented immigrants will no longer be allowed to cast ballots; a visibly shocked Chuck Todd said, “Well, of course. That is the law as it stands already.” To which Trump replied, “No, it’s not. I mean, you have places where people just walk in and vote.” Todd moved on. Trump also said “We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world,” another falsehood he often repeats, and which Todd wasn’t quick enough to catch.

So does Trump’s antagonistic relationship with the truth matter? It depends what we mean when we ask the question. It certainly didn’t hurt him in the primaries. Perhaps that’s because of the overwhelming force of his personality, or perhaps it’s because Republican voters have been told for years that anything the news media tell them is by definition poisoned by liberal bias, so why bother listening to some fact-checker? Trump’s supporters may be particularly unconcerned about what’s true and what isn’t; they were more likely than supporters of Ted Cruz or John Kasich to believe in a wide range of conspiracy theories, among other things.

But like Trump’s support more broadly, what didn’t hurt him in the primaries did hurt him with the general electorate. Trump may have triumphed in the GOP contest, but along the way he acquired unfavorable ratings in the 60s, and one poll found only 27 percent of Americans rating him as honest and trustworthy.

But the electoral effects of Trump’s blizzard of baloney are only part of the story; we also have to ask what his untruthfulness tells us about the kind of president he’d be. Unfortunately, we in the media don’t always go about assessing honesty in ways that help voters understand its implications for the presidency. For instance, in 2000, George W. Bush was portrayed as a man who, though a bit dim, was positively brimming with homespun integrity. Only a few observers noted that Bush regularly dissembled about his record as governor of Texas and the content of his policy proposals, which suggested that even if he might be faithful to his wife, as president he might not be honest about matters of policy. And he wasn’t, with some rather serious consequences. His predecessor, on the other hand, saw all kinds of questions of honesty raised about him during the 1992 campaign. And it turned out that like Bush, Bill Clinton’s prior behavior provided a good preview of what he’d do in the White House: As a candidate he tried to cover up his extramarital affairs, and as a president he, guess what, tried to cover up an extramarital affair.

In Trump’s case, though, his whoppers are so wide-ranging that it’s almost impossible to find a topic area about which he wouldn’t dissemble. He lies to foment hatred against minority groups. He lies about the condition of the country. He lies about what his opponents have said or done. He lies about his own past. It’s hard to foresee that a President Trump would act any differently than candidate Trump does, and what would it mean if no one could trust anything the president tells them?

People who live in dictatorships with a captive press often assume that whatever the government says is bogus by definition. Needless to say, that kind of relationship between the government and the governed is not conducive to popular legitimacy or any kind of problem-solving that requires public involvement. With Donald Trump in the White House offering a daily delivery of fibs and fabrications, it isn’t hard to imagine that the public would conclude that the government is nothing more than a second-rate reality show, worthy of little attention or regard. Imagine what he could get away with then.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 8, 2016

May 10, 2016 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“O’Reilly’s Trouble Deepens”: A Kennedy Tall Tale That Could Unravel Fox News’ Bully

Writers and advocates on the left have long catalogued the exaggerations, meltdowns and many stumbles of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, to show that the guy who runs the No-Spin Zone is frequently unfair and relentlessly unbalanced. But now O’Reilly has a different sort of watchdog in CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, host of “Reliable Sources” – and Stelter is attracting more company.

Oh sure, the Fox bully dismisses Stelter — along with his critics at Mother Jones, Media Matters and, for that matter, Salon — as just another left-winger out to get him. But that charge won’t stick. The bright, earnest, hardworking former New York Times reporter isn’t known for his ideological crusading; he goes after MSNBC, not just Fox. But when Stelter finds an important story, he digs in.

The CNN host just spent his second straight Sunday on the O’Reilly mess, this time advancing the story about what has become the most damning and incontestable charge against the Fox host: that he lied about personally hearing the suicide of a mysterious friend of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, in Palm Beach, Florida, back in 1977, just as congressional investigators were closing in on the source. O’Reilly told the lie in his book “Killing Kennedy” as well as on the air at Fox.

In his book, O’Reilly wrote of tracking George de Mohrenschildt, who’d lived in Minsk and became friends with Oswald and his wife, Marina, in Dallas, after they returned from a stay in the Russian city. Kennedy assassination researchers believe de Mohrenschildt was a CIA asset, and he’s implicated in a lot of theories about the real motive for Kennedy’s murder. O’Reilly doesn’t dig into that story, but he tells a dramatic tale of his search for the Oswald associate:

As the reporter knocked on the door of de Mohrenschildt’s daughter’s home, he heard the shotgun blast that marked the suicide of the Russian, assuring that his relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald would never be fully understood.

By the way, that reporter’s name is Bill O’Reilly.

There’s no evidence O’Reilly was anywhere near the shooting. In fact, two years ago Jefferson Morley obtained a tape of a conversation between O’Reilly and congressional investigator Gaetan Fonzi, which proves he wasn’t there. Morley, a former Washington Post and Salon editor, posted the tape on his site JFKFacts.org, a clearinghouse for assassination news.

But it wasn’t easy to hear. After Media Matters surfaced Morley’s reporting, CNN obtained a much more audible version of the taped conversation from Fonzi’s widow. It proves O’Reilly wasn’t on the scene when de Mohrenschildt died. You can hear Fonzi tell O’Reilly “he committed suicide,” as O’Reilly asks when and how (“they say he shot himself). The Dallas-based reporter wraps the conversation by saying, “I’m comin’ down there tomorrow, I’m comin’ down to Florida,” and as he discusses grabbing a flight, it’s clear he wasn’t anywhere close. “Bill O’Reilly did not hear a gunshot from 1,200 miles away,” Morley told Stelter Sunday morning.

The journalist and JFK assassination investigator took his findings to Fox News two years ago, he said, but got no reply. Since Media Matters revived the Morley story, Fox has referred all questions to O’Reilly’s publisher, which is mildly interesting, since on the other charges Roger Ailes has staunchly stood behind his anchor.

The Kennedy lie is different from the other charges against O’Reilly – although as the number of challenged O’Reilly claims mount, it’s possible to wonder how much more reporters have yet to uncover. Let’s take them in order.

When it comes to reporting on his exaggerations and falsehoods about his time covering the Falklands War and guerrilla uprisings in El Salvador, there is at least some confusion over the real story. Although it’s clear O’Reilly didn’t come close to combat in the Falklands as he claimed, he’s been able to produce enough conflicting accounts about the Buenos Aires riot that he did cover to at least cloud the charges against him. Likewise, he obviously, even ludicrously exaggerated the danger he saw reporting in El Salvador, but you have to sort through different versions of different war scenes to get the truth.

O’Reilly’s claims that he witnessed the murder of nuns in El Salvador – “I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head,” he said more than once – were debunked by Media Matters too. But the Fox host told Mediaite, one of his go-to defenders, that he was referring to seeing photos of the murdered nuns, not the actual murders. “No one could possibly take that segment as reporting on El Salvador,” O’Reilly sputtered. Critics widely mocked him, but he seems to be getting away with that one too.

Then former colleagues came forward in the Guardian to refute O’Reilly’s heroic accounts of his reporting on the 1992 Los Angeles riots. O’Reilly claimed “concrete was raining down on us” and “we were attacked by protesters,” but journalists on the scene with him say they faced no such violence, though a camera was smashed by an angry resident. Jon Swaine reported:

Two of the team said the man was angered specifically by O’Reilly behaving disrespectfully after arriving at the smoking remains of his neighbourhood in a limousine, whose driver at one point began polishing the vehicle. O’Reilly is said to have shouted at the man and asked him: “Don’t you know who I am?”

A Fox spokeswoman told Swaine the Los Angeles stories were “nothing more than an orchestrated campaign by far left advocates.”

That’s a lot of smoke, and O’Reilly critics clearly believe there’s fire. But Fox is able to use the “he said, she said” nature of some of the charges to polish its brand and trash its perfidious left-wing enemies in the media. The Kennedy story isn’t crumbling under that treatment, because we have a tape of Bill O’Reilly contradicting Bill O’Reilly. It’s a “he said, he said” conflict — but the guy on tape is more believable than the guy writing the book.

I’m not going so far as to predict the Kennedy story will endanger O’Reilly’s perch at Fox. But this one might get other editors and reporters to take the story more seriously. It could encourage other former colleagues to bring more evidence about his serial exaggerating, even lies. O’Reilly may well survive this round of challenges to his credibility, but the stories aren’t going away any time soon.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 2, 2015

March 5, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Laptop And A Grudge”: It’s Too Easy To Become A Terrorist

Authorities say that the two brothers who allegedly bombed the Boston Marathon were probably “self-radicalized.”

The media have embraced this catchy term, partly because of the assurance it seems to offer: Don’t worry, folks — Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev weren’t recruited and deployed by al Qaeda or any other terrorist group; they hatched their own plot with no tactical help from abroad.

That might well be true, but little comfort can be taken from it.

Some of the most notorious acts of political violence in our history were carried out by pissed-off loners or impromptu zealots who belonged to no organized cabal.

By modern definition, Lee Harvey Oswald was self-radicalized. So was Sirhan Sirhan. Ditto for hermit Ted Kaczyinski, the Unabomber.

And who was more self-radicalized than Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the creeps who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995?

Everyone who sets out to create blood-soaked headlines finds a way to rationalize it. Murder in the name of God, Allah or patriotism is the oldest excuse in the book.

Once caught, the killers seldom admit they did it just for a sick thrill. OK, I’m a loser and my life is crap, so I decided to do something really outrageous.

Self-radicalized terrorists can be scarier than organized cells, because the cells are easier to track and their agendas are less opaque. They wave their hatred like a flag.

In Boston, the older Tsarnaev brother and apparent mastermind of the bombings was loving life until three years ago. According to interviews with friends and family, Tamerlan’s dream had been to become a professional boxer and earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

He wore flamboyant white fur and snakeskins, and trash-talked his opponents in the ring. He was a good fighter, too, twice the Golden Gloves champ of New England.

Then the rules changed. Tamerlan wasn’t allowed to box in the Tournament of Champions because of his immigration status — he was a legal permanent resident, not a full U.S. citizen.

Disappointed, he quit boxing. He didn’t work a regular job. His wife, a healthcare aide, paid the family’s rent. The Tsarnaevs also received food stamps and welfare payments.

Tamerlan tried community college but soon dropped out. He grew a beard and became increasingly interested in Islam, the religion of his Chechen and Dagestani heritage.

Last year he went back to Dagestan for six months without his wife and daughter, a trip being scrutinized by the FBI and Russian authorities. So far, though, Tamerlan hasn’t been connected to any terror group that has targeted America.

His path to Boylston Street, as presented in law enforcement’s scenario, is at once amateurish and harrowing: Older brother returns to the States and enlists his impressionable younger brother, a pot-smoking college student with good grades, plenty of friends and no known hostility against this country.

Together, the two of them assemble bombs from an Internet recipe using kitchen pressure cookers, fireworks, nails, ball bearings and remote control mechanisms from toy racecars. Then they go to the marathon, place the devices in the crowd and stupidly hang around to watch the detonations.

A professional operation it was not. The brothers had no idea there were video cameras all over the place. No disguises, no getaway plan, no fake passports, no money, no plane tickets, no car (Dzhokhar’s was in a repair shop).

This, we are told, is the new face of terror. Spontaneous and rudimentary.

A disgruntled young athlete, his career stymied, violently attacks the country that he’d once hoped to represent in the Olympics. Maybe Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been “self-radicalized” into an Islamic fanatic.

Or maybe he was just furious because a lack of U.S. citizenship papers had kept him out of the biggest boxing match of his life. Maybe it was that simple.

Tamerlan is dead, and Dzhokhar might or might not reveal the motive for the bombing. Clearly, though, it wasn’t the act of two crazy persons.

Cold and twisted? Obviously. But not crazy.

Even more sobering is the ease with which the brothers put their plan in motion. These days, anybody with a laptop and a grudge can arrange a massacre on a shoestring budget.

You don’t need fake IDs. You don’t need special training. You don’t even need to be very smart.

All you need is the one dark impulse.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, The National Memo. May 7, 2013

May 8, 2013 Posted by | Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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