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A Lie by Any Other Name

Should journalists hold President Trump more accountable? PHOTO/ Flickr Creative Commons
Should journalists hold President Trump more accountable? PHOTO/ Flickr Creative Commons

By Ranti Olaose

Published: May 2nd, 2018 

Another week, another drama.

This is the standard operating principle of the Trump administration, but one particularly memorable episode of the ridiculous reality show that America has become was the feud between the person pretending to be President and a dead soldier’s widow. After her husband, Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, died under extremely questionable circumstances in Niger, #45 had one simple job—console Myeshia Johnson with the empathy and respect any normal human being would. However, #45 is no normal human being, so naturally this was too much of a task. He proceeded to disrespect her and her late husband by forgetting his name and reminding her that “he knew what he signed up for,” among other insensitive remarks. 

This earned the ire of Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who went public with the details of the call she had overheard, blasting 45’s insensitivity and lackadaisical manner. He responded in true “Trumpian” fashion by insulting her via Twitter and insisting that her account of the call was false. His Chief of Staff and main handler John Kelly also leapt to his defense, and in doing so deliberately misstated remarks Rep. Wilson had made years ago. The ensuing fracas meant the widow had to go public and say what everyone with a brain already knew—that Rep Wilson’s account was accurate and Trump was lying as usual. Video proved John Kelly had also lied about Rep. Wilson’s remarks. 

What’s interesting though is how the media covered the story. When video evidence showed Kelly had deliberately falsified Rep. Wilson’s remarks, The LA Times said he had “mischaracterized her remarks,” and the Washington Post wrote that he “made inaccurate claims” about her. Similar news reports told us Trump had “made unfounded claims” about his own remarks during the calls and “stretched the truth” about it. This reflects a pattern in the media coverage of Trump and his nearly daily stream of lies. He and the people in his orbit never lie, even when they are intentionally not telling the truth for obvious reasons or saying something too ludicrous to even be considered reality—for example, Muslims dancing in the streets after 9/11, Ted Cruz’s dad being involved in JFK’s assassination, Trump’s inauguration crowd being the largest in history; the list has no end. He “misrepresents,” he “misstates,” he “misleads,” he “makes unfounded claims,” but he never ever LIES.

One wonders what will happen when mainstream journalists run out of euphemisms for lying. When called out on this, journalists like the NY Times’ Maggie Haberman say they don’t accuse him of lying because they don’t know for certain the intention of his false claims. What makes this so immensely frustrating is that no matter how many or how frequent or how ridiculous the lies are, journalists and others are still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Sure, he rarely ever tells the truth about ANYTHING, not even the most visibly obvious things, but surely he doesn’t mean to lie, right?

Wrong.

Never in history has a head of state been so averse to the truth and so generous with falsehoods. This is extremely dangerous, since those lies could literally be the difference between life and death for so many. The Bush administration told ONE big lie—that Iraq had WMDs—and because mainstream media outlets and journalists weren’t skeptical enough, millions of Americans and Iraqis paid with their lives. The Trump administration clearly feels no obligation whatsoever to tell the truth to the American people, and the media which is tasked with the role of interrogating and challenging government on behalf of the people is still giving it the benefit of the doubt, presumably because of an institutional impulse to defer to authority. This timid, business-as-usual style of journalism is untenable. A lie by any other name is still a lie. If we can’t call a lie a lie or call a liar a liar, we are allowing them to retain unwarranted credibility. Pondering the intentions behind the lies is a useless and futile exercise—how many times does someone have to lie before it becomes obvious that they have no credibility left? What happens when this administration starts telling lies of “Iraqi WMD” magnitude and people start dying because no one was brave enough to call it out? With the situation in Syria rapidly escalating and trust in government declining every day, we might soon find out.

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