How should Donald Trump's claim be described?

SATURDAY, JANUARY 28, 2017

Times editors give it a shot:
How should Donald J. Trump's claim be described—his recent (unrecorded, reported) claim that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast in November's election?

In this morning's featured editorial, the New York Times gives that question a try. As we'll show you below, the editors start out today referring to Trump's "false claim."

Eventually, in paragraph 6, the editors get a snootful and refer to the claim as a "lie."

We'll review the text of the editorial below. First, let's ponder something in Dan Barry's recent report—his report about the way the paper's "top editors" first decided to call Trump's statement a "lie."

As you may recall, the L-bomb was dropped on the front page of Tuesday morning's Times. Somewhat strangely, Trump's statement was branded as "a lie" in the paper's front-page headline only. The news report beneath that headline didn't say Trump told a "lie."

Whatever! By way of recollection, here's what that headline said:

"Meeting With Top Lawmakers, Trump Repeats an Election Lie"

Please note. That headline doesn't say Trump "lied." It says he repeated a "lie!"

According to Barry, a significant difference lurks there. In this passage, Barry quotes Joshua Benton, flamboyant youngish director of Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab:
BARRY (1/26/17): [New York Times mastermind Dean] Baquet said he fully understood the gravity of using the word “lie,” whether in reference to an average citizen or to the president of the United States. He emphasized that it should be used sparingly, partly because the term carries such negative connotations, and partly so that it does not lose potency.

“On the other hand, we should be letting people know in no uncertain terms that it’s untrue,” Mr. Baquet said, referring to the president’s assertion of a voter-fraud epidemic. “He repeated it without a single grain of evidence, and it’s a very powerful statement about the electoral system.”

Mr. Baquet said that emails from readers seemed split on the appropriateness of the word’s use. Meanwhile, Mr. Benton, of the Nieman Journalism Lab, applauded its use as a noun in the Times headline (“Trump Repeats an Election Lie”); in this construction, he said, “the lie can exist as a reality distinct from the speaker’s intention.”
Benton applauded its use as a noun! Because the term was used as a noun, “the lie can exist as a reality distinct from the speaker’s intention!"

Donald J. Trump told a lie without lying! We live in a world where people like Benton says such things, and people like Barry type them on up.

Meanwhile, at the very top of our most famous newspaper, people like Baquet seem to think a claim is a lie if the claim is untrue. This is the shape of our world!

We'd pay good money to watch Benton and Barry attempt to defend Benton's gongy construction. That said, here's the way the editors limned this matter today:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (1/28/17): There are varying degrees of absurdity in the fallacies President Trump peddled during his first week in the Oval Office. Perhaps the most damaging was his insistence that millions of Americans voted illegally in the election he narrowly won.

Mr. Trump first made that false claim in late November, tweeting that he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” On Wednesday, he announced that he intended to launch a “major investigation” into voting fraud and suggested the outcome may justify tightening voting rules.

What once seemed like another harebrained claim by a president with little regard for the truth must now be recognized as a real threat to American democracy. Mr. Trump is telegraphing his administration’s intent to provide cover for longstanding efforts by Republicans to suppress minority voters by purging voting rolls, imposing onerous identification requirements and curtailing early voting.

“This is another attempt to undermine our democracy,” said Representative Barbara Lee of California, one of the states where Mr. Trump falsely claimed results were tainted by large-scale fraud. “It’s about not honoring and recognizing demographic change.”

The apparent source of Mr. Trump’s original claim of mass voter fraud was Gregg Phillips, a Texas man with a penchant for making wild allegations about voting fraud. Days before Mr. Trump’s tweet, Mr. Phillips claimed on Twitter that he had “verified more than three million votes cast by non-citizens.” State election officials across the political spectrum promptly rejected that assertion, noting that ballot box fraud in the United States is exceedingly rare.

On Friday, Mr. Trump tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing the results of an analysis of illegal votes, as promised by Mr. Phillips. Republican officials know the voter fraud claim is an indefensible lie. But few are challenging Mr. Trump or raising alarms about how severely this hurts our election system.
The editorial continues from there. That said, did Donald J. Trump tell a lie? Here's how the editors played it:

First, they described Trump's statement about illegal votes as a mere "false claim" (also, as a "fallacy"). Skillfully moving from noun to verb, they soon said that Trump "falsely claimed" that California's results had been tainted.

(For our money, the editors never succeed in showing that Trump's claim is actually "false." That said, let's ignore that point today. Let's return return to the question of "lies.")

We were now four paragraphs in; no L-bombs had dropped from the sky. Frankly, we were starting to wonder if the editors, sixteen strong, were perhaps maybe taking a dive.

In paragraph 6, our faith was restored. Trump's "false claim" was bumped up a level. At last, it was scanned as a "lie."

Readers, can we talk? In the New York Times, Donald J. Trump still hasn't lied. On the other hand, he has told or repeated a lie.

At Harvard, the eggheads dissect these subtle moves. Here on our campus, we say it again:

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Starting Monday: Learning to use our words. Also, why does this matter?

Gazing into the middle distance: Earlier in his report, Barry had pondered that key noun-verb distinction. We bring his words to you here:
BARRY: To say that someone has “lied,” an active verb, or has told a “lie,” a more passive, distancing noun, is to say that the person intended to deceive.
Top editors chose a "distancing noun!" In this key and important sense, were they taking a dive all along?

62 comments:

  1. Habitual liar, or merely the rantings of an unsound mind?

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    1. Bob: Republican officials know the voter fraud claim is an indefensible lie.

      So you're saying that dozens of Republican governors passed voter ID laws based on lies?

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    2. Republicans know that voter ID laws impose a hardship on the kinds of voters who are more likely to vote Democrat (poor, elderly, naturalized immigrant, young/college, disabled), so advocating for such laws will have the effect of suppressing the Democratic vote. There IS evidence in support of this. There is also video of Republicans admitting that this is their real goal in advocating for such laws.

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    3. Voter ID laws don't require a history of fraud to justify them, only a desire to prevent a future of it.

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    4. The problem is that such laws are generally accompanied by a desire to prevent certain citizens from voting, such as those blocked during Jim Crow and currently, those likely to vote Democrat.

      You can use overconcern for fraud to justify suppression of political opponents. Those proposing Voter ID have a burden of proof that they will not harm legitimate voters in their efforts to cast a legitimate ballot.

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    5. No they have a burden to prove they do not place an unreasonable burden on efforts to cast a legitimate ballot. Obtaining an ID isn't enough of a burden to justify not requiring one. The motives of those making the arguments are not important to the question of what level of ID should be required to maintain integrity of elections.

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    6. A reasonable starting point is finding out the extent of fraud.

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    7. Been there, done that. No fraud.

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    8. Dave the Guitar PlayerJanuary 30, 2017 at 3:43 PM

      If passing a law deliberately or inadvertently results in hundreds or perhaps thousands of legitimate potential voters from voting for any reason in order to prevent a few people from using fraud to vote, then the argument that these laws are trying to maintain the integrity of elections is itself a fraud. Every citizen should have the opportunity to choose those who represent him in government and any hurdles that are placed in their path are the true dangers to democracy.

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  2. Here we continue to spend a great deal of time discussing whether a particular statement is a lie or an untruth. This distraction enables us to ignore the fact that our president is unfit for office, as evidenced by this and many other recent statements.

    When a fact is so distressing that no one wants to face it, our minds can find any number of ways to evade that reality. That is what is happening now.

    In the larger sense, no one believes 3-5 million undocumented immigrants threw the popular vote to Hillary (with zero votes for Trump, as he has also stated, without reaction from anyone). No one believe he is correct about many ridiculous things he has been saying. But recognizing that would force us all to deal with the reality that our top leader, our president, is making those ridiculous statements. No one wants to deal with what that means for us and for our nation.

    It doesn't matter whether Trump is lying or not. It matters that he is saying this stuff. What are we going to do about it? That is the important issue -- not his intentions. What will we do?

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    1. Mr. Trump is repeating statements which cast doubt on the core functioning of our system of government - without making any apparent effort to determine whether there's any supporting evidence for those statements. This means Mr. Trump is either making knowingly false statements, or is speaking with reckless disregard for their truth or falseness.

      To any fair reader, this means that Mr. Trump is lying, plain and simple. Why are you pretending otherwise?

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    2. He has called for an investigation into his claim so that's your apparent effort to determine supporting evidence. Democrats had a fit.

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    3. How should Donald Trump's claim be described?

      What about his claim that Global Warming is a Chinese hoax? Lots of implications there. Republicans who already want to cut research funding may want to have McCarthyite hearings to flush out these Chinese spy scientists. Climate scientists may be blacklisted and have to leave the country.

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  3. Stop picking nits. Journalists aren't the enemy; Trump is.

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    1. No, journalism is.

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    2. Journalistz paved the way for Trump and made it easy for him.

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    3. Journalists didn't assist Trump and actively sought to ensure his defeat. Trump directly convinced voters he was a better choice than Hillary, journalists, and the political establishment.

      The most you can say is that journalists covered him and allowed the public to hear him. If they had censored him it would have made the left happy and they would have justified it in the same way it is justified by Putin in Russia.

      They also helped by provoking a backlash against themselves because even though most had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, they also saw much of the coverage as grossly biased and decided journalists were worse.

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    4. @3:57 believes in fairy tales. When Trump supporters repeat his lies are they lying or are they repeating falsehoods? I think @3:57 is lying.

      For examples, several cable stations ran Trump's rallies live even though he was announcing no new policies and just repeating his usual campaign speech. That wasn't "coverage." It was unpaid access, an in-kind donation to his campaign. If you listened to those speeches at Trump's rallies, you heard his actively provoking animosity toward the press. So @3:57 is lying, in much the same way as Trump lies.

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    5. If Trump's claims are false and are repeated, the repeater is both lying and not lying depending on what definition you've settled on and depending on whether the claim is objectively false. They are repeating falsehoods or not repeating falsehoods depending on whether the claim is objectively false.

      Trump's animosity towards the press is one of his better traits.

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    6. He has no better traits. Have you noticed how rarely he smiles (in a genuine way)? He has no sense of humor and no warmth. It is all fake with him.

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    7. I saw him laugh like a schoolgirl when his son finally started waving at the crowd Inauguration day. His quips are amusing enough to break up a roomful of his enemies so there is a sense of humor. Smile frequency isn't determinative of much.

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    8. Is this the same son he called a "retard"? I bet he laughed bigly after saying that.

      Smile frequency indicates things like autism, Parkinson's, and sociopathy.

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    9. No the son famous lefties called a school shooter, and you just called a "retard" by lying about his father saying it.

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    10. Unfortunately for Trump, people heard him say it. If you're going to quote, get it right. The tweet said home school, not school. What famous lefty said this besides an unknown SNL writer, immediately suspended from her job?

      You trolls tell as many lies as Trump -- no wait, that's not possible.

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  4. I'm not sure that this discussion will lead us to a better place, given this man's blatant dishonesty. This house is on fire. It's time to grab a bucket and douse the flamea

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  5. If Trump is either uninformed or unconvinced that there were not millions of illegal votes, he did not "lie" according to this particular definition. Intent is impossible to prove in this case and maybe any case. If intent is the standard, then someone who has not at the very least admitted convincingly that they don't believe what they are saying should not be accused of lying under that standard. Negligence or reckless disregard are different from intent and reckless is subjective. People who are highly skeptical of unproven claims their political opponents make are not reckless.

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    1. We have discussed this to death.

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    2. Because we are discussing language and words with multiple accepted meanings. All of it is moot.

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  6. IMHO there's a greater point: Whether you call Trump's claim "unsourced", "a mistake", "a falsehood", "an exaggeration", "wishful thinking", or "a lie", it's about something that doesn't matter. The media ought to be focusing on things that do matter. They're focusing on this trivial item only because it makes Trump look bad. Or, because they think it makes him look bad.

    There's an old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” The media have turned it on its head.

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    1. Given the huge number of accusations, it's easy to find examples that are insignificant or uncertain or entirely invalid. What Bob can't do is to take the entire list of accsations and fairly evaluate every single item. If he did that, he'd find plenty of valid accusations, which would answer his question about why people dislike Hillary.David in Cal July 28, 2016 at 4:00 PM

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    2. Even for David in Ca, this is extra strength stupid. The President of the US is, with transparent dishonesty, pushing the notion that our elections are unsound to a great extent. What possible harm could THAT do?

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    3. So why the resistance to an investigation that you believe would prove him wrong, Greg? What harm would that do? There is no argument against finding out a truth about election fraud.

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    4. Anon @ 6:42:

      Who is resisting, besides House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz?

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    5. Greg - maybe I was confused or unclear, for which I apologize. Trump's claim of 5 million illegal votes sounds preposterous. OTOH his claim of lots and lots of illegal votes has some evidence behind it.

      Many liberals are asserting that there's not a significant amount of vote fraud. That is an unsourced claim. These liberals point to studies that failed to find much vote fraud, but none of these studies actually looked at whether or not the voters were citizens.

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    6. Right, trump is only concerned about wasteful spending as an excuse for cutting a program that helps people (CHIP for example). When it comes to hurting Democrats, no amount of waste is too much.

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    7. Stop making sense,David in Cal. It's jarring here.

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    8. DinC claims, none of these studies actually looked at whether or not the voters were citizens.

      So studies specifically aimed at determining if non-citizens voted just plumb forgot to check whether the voters were citizens. This makes "sense" to Anon 9:59pm.

      I guess the Republican Governor of Florida and the Republican Secretary of State of Florida just plumb forgot to check the citizenship of voters registered in his state when he specifically attempted to "purge noncitizens from voter rolls".

      That was his specific stated goal.

      States that have tried to purge noncitizens from voter rolls, meanwhile, have found even government data lacking.

      In 2012, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration tried to crack down on noncitizens voting by comparing driver’s license data against voter rolls.

      Through this process the Florida Department of State created a list of 182,000 potential noncitizens who had voted. That number was whittled down to 2,700, then to about 200 before the purge was stopped amid criticism that the data was flawed given the number of false positives — including a Brooklyn-born World War II vet.

      Ultimately, only 85 people were removed from the voting rolls. State officials began a second attempt at a purge before the 2014 election but abandoned that effort, too.


      How do you suppose they determined the "false positives" genius?



      Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/article116742673.html#storylink=cpy

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    9. More irrelevant information designed to shut down an investigation. There were 85 removed, definitely more than that that exist, and a presidential election result turned on that state's count which was a margin for the winner of mere hundreds.

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    10. Go back and read what mm said above.

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  7. When the president keeps repeating an obvious lie, it does not matter whether he considers whether 'opinions differ'. As president there are many things he should know, and this is one of them. Another is whether we have the greatest health care in the world, and whether tax cuts increase revenue.

    Incidentally, remember when he coined the phrase, "lyin Ted"? It would seem he learned from a master.

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  8. Describe it as an "unproven claim."

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  9. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/videos/#204990?platform=hootsuite

    Prof Rick Hasen of UCI explains on PBS why Trump's claims will undermine legitimate voting rights.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your link.AnonymousJanuary 28, 2017 at 8:03 PM. I was disappointed that they had two spokespeople on the same side and none on the other side. The NewsHour generally tries for balance.

      One speaker said he feared that the investigation would lead to stiffer ID laws. Why would it? He says there's almost no voter fraud. If he's right, an investigation would do the opposite; it would show that there's no need for stiffer ID laws.

      This is a feeble excuse IMHO. I think Dems oppose a study checking on voter fraud because they're afraid that the study will find that there is some voter fraud and it has been helping the Democrats.

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    2. Republicans want to enact those stiffer laws with or without empirical evidence of fraud because such laws discourage Democratic voters (those who are poor, elderly, naturalized immigrants, disabled, etc).

      Democrats are concerned that their fraud will be discovered. They believe this is a waste of money and a boondoggle intended to justify voter suppression. They believe this because there hasn't been fraud reported before now and because previous studies have found a lack of such fraud.

      Simply believing in the existence of fraud is no excuse for imposing restrictions on legitimate voters who may find it difficult to cast their ballot, resulting in their disenfranchisement.

      Republicans have expressed no concern for such voters, once again displaying their famous lack of empathy.

      The burden of proof is on those who wish to tamper with voting rights, not those defending them.

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    3. Simple solution then. Find out the TRUTH. If there is no empirical evidence of fraud Republicans will have a tougher time enacting stiffer laws.

      A burden of proof allows one to present proof. So let's investigate. What are you afraid of?

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    4. There is no empirical evidence of fraud. That is the truth. Republicans need to accept it. It has already been investigated.

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    5. "It has already been investigated."

      Proving a negative is really hard. One has to investigate all the possibilities. One has to investigate many locations and many types of fraud.

      E>g., suppose some other state has done an investigations and didn't find too many voters using someone else's registration. That wouldn't prove whether California has a problem with non-citizens registering.

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    6. No, it hasn't been investigated to any meaningful extent. Even the Jill Stein challenge that Hillary joined turned up fraud, and that is only one form of it in a small set of locations. Admit why you don't want a real investigation.

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    7. No, Stein did not find fraud. She only did a recount not an audit and only in WI where 100 additional votes for Trump were found due to miscount not fraud. Studies of voting that have been conducted do not support Trump or Republican claims.

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  10. When a non-citizen votes Democratic in CA, he cancels out my vote, in effect depriving me of my voting rights.

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    Replies
    1. When your wife votes, she cancels out your voting rights.

      Delete
    2. Dave the Guitar PlayerJanuary 30, 2017 at 3:56 PM

      When DinC and his friends invoke "fraud" to make it harder to vote, hundreds of citizens end up not voting, which effectively deprives them of representation. If anyone claims to care anything about voting rights, they would then want *more* people voting, not less.

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  11. Donald Trump says to Mike Pence, "We need less immigrants."

    Pence replies "Fewer"

    Trump says, "I told you not to call me that in public."

    ----------

    I'm on the list now for spreading this joke. So are you, if you laughed. This relies on a cross-language linguistic homonym, so Somerby should like it.

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  12. Bob,
    I've been reading you since the beginning. I have learned an enormous amount from your righting. It strongly shapes my world view.
    Having said that - please stop this "lie or not lie" bullshit. You are truly missing the forest.

    I'm sure you see the true threat of Trump. Focus on that. Not on this lie question, which no one cares about and which has no significance in the grander scheme.


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    Replies
    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerJanuary 30, 2017 at 4:02 PM

      trittico - This blog is not intended to be a "political" blog, where you criticize candidates and office holders, although many here do. The whole point is to hold up the liberal media to scrutiny. Are they doing a good job? Are they telling us what we need to know? Are they missing the important stories? Are they misrepresenting the facts? Do they know the facts? These are the issues here. So, Trump is an idiot. What is the media doing about that?

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