Interlude—Applause for third-grade work: Long ago, though not far away, we uncorked a fiery statement which was demonstrably false.
We were sitting in the upper deck at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. We told our friend, Name Withheld, that Jim Palmer was 6-foot-6.
Our friend was Baltimore's version of Mark Rudd—and a life-long Orioles fan. He quickly said that we were all wet, that Palmer was not 6-foot-6.
For whatever strange reason, we were sure we were right. We'd long believed that Palmer, a future Hall-of-Famer, weighed in at 6-foot-6.
As our friend quickly proved, our statement was demonstrably false. He bought a scorecard, and there it was, listed as part of the Orioles' roster:
Jim Palmer was 6-foot-3. He had been all along!
We offer this pointlessness for a reason. We're weren't telling a lie that day. We were sure of our (inaccurate) claim, but we were, in fact, misinformed.
Almost everyone would know that our statement wouldn't rate as a lie, even though it was demonstrably false. Everyone but major journalists, that is, in this land of skill-free living.
Yesterday, we posted the first five paragraphs of a widely-lauded report by the New York Times' David Leonhardt. It appeared in the Sunday Review on Sunday, June 25.
At best, it resembled third grade work. Once again, for the record, here it is:
LEONHARDT (6/25/17): All the President’s LiesLeonhardt is a graduate of Yale and a Pulitzer winner. He works at the very top of alleged American journalism.
President Trump’s political rise was built on a lie (about Barack Obama's birthplace). His lack of truthfulness has also become central to the Russia investigation, with James Comey, the former director of the F.B.I., testifying under oath about Trump's “lies, plain and simple.”
There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers. No other president—of either party—has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.
We have set a conservative standard here, leaving out many dubious statements (like the claim that his travel ban is “similar” to Obama administration policy). Some people may still take issue with this standard, arguing that the president wasn't speaking literally. But we believe his long pattern of using untruths to serve his purposes, as a businessman and politician, means that his statements are not simply careless errors.
We are using the word “lie” deliberately. Not every falsehood is deliberate on Trump's part. But it would be the height of naïveté to imagine he is merely making honest mistakes. He is lying.
The list above uses the conservative standard of demonstrably false statements. By that standard, Trump told a public lie on at least 20 of his first 40 days as president.
Does he know what a "lie" is? Does he understand that familiar concept? Based on that remarkable work, it's amazingly hard to tell.
In various ways, that short presentation reads like the work of someone who's barely literate. Who knows? Perhaps it was subjected to an editing process which took it past five or six different pens.
That said, it isn't clear, in any way, that Leonhardt understands the basic concepts surrounding the notion of a "lie." Amazingly, it isn't clear that he understands the simple term "lie," even though it's a familiar word, one you will hear every day.
At one point, Leonhardt seems to say, with substantial accuracy, that a lie is a deliberate falsehood. Elsewhere, his conception seems less clear.
By that fifth paragraph, he almost seems to be saying that a lie is a "demonstrably false statement." Why on earth would a major journalist produce such strange, muddy work?
We can't answer that question. If we had to offer a guess, we would start with this:
For many major American journalists, it has been a very long time since they actually tried to figure anything out.
They tend to work from script, full stop. They advance the mandated narratives of their guild. Their intellectual effort stops there.
Leonhardt's essay reads like the work of someone whose brain has withered from disuse. Above his essay, he listed the statements he or someone had headlined this way:
"All the president's lies"
That headline fulfilled a guild mandate, a mandate requiring Watergate comparisons when discussing our current disordered president. But speaking of intellectual disorder, this was Leonhardt's second example of our president's "lies:"
JAN. 21 “A reporter for Time magazine—and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.” (Trump was on the cover 11 times and Nixon appeared 55 times.)Why should we think that was a lie? How do we know that Donald J. Trump didn't believe those statements?
Donald J. Trump has always had terrible values and instincts. By now, it isn't clear that he isn't "mentally ill" in some way. It also seems possible that he suffers from some version of early onset dementia, a terrible disease.
Out of that stew has emerged a vast intellectual and moral disorder. That said, our upper-end press corps has also displayed vast intellectual and moral disorder over the past thirty years.
That jumbled piece by Leonhardt seems to have emerged from the brain of a child. That said, it was met with vast approbation within our liberal world.
We liberals! We're silly and childish and we aren't super-smart. Not do we show much discipline.
Beyond that, we're in the hands of an upper-end, often corporate press corps whose performance and conduct have been appalling over the past thirty years. We seem to have only the vaguest awareness of this.
Leonhardt's piece seemed to be the work of a none-too-impressive child. In our liberal tents, we thought it was great.
In May, Masha Gessen delivered a lecture which was frequently interrupted by liberal applause. Gessen is sincere in ways our upper-end press corps, on balance, is not.
Gessen is an admirable figure. We thought her work was revealing and poor.
Tomorrow—Part 3: Gessen, a fully admirable figure, seems to quote Donald J. Trump
Assorted brushes with greatness: At one point, we'd lightly jeered Palmer as he left a game at Fenway Park.
Standing behind the Orioles dugout in the final inning of another lost cause, we may have gotten the false impression that he was 6-foot-6. Almost surely, this box score records that occasion.
From Fenway, we proceeded to Logan Airport that day. "Greatest man of his generation" Name Withheld was flying in from the coast!
By the time we hooked up, the master ironist had had his own brush with greatness. He said he'd passed the whole Orioles team in the long walkway leading to the terminal from his plane.
He said they were all laughing, as they left Boston, about the way they'd blasted Fireball Freddy Wenz during the four-game series which had just concluded.
Wenz was supposed to be the Red Sox' next star closer. The historical record seems to show that that the Birds didn't exactly blast him that week. But he didn't make it as a major-league closer, and those Orioles proceeded to win the next three American League pennants.
Name Withheld lurked about the dorm for the rest of the year. For whatever reason, he decided to rent a cap and gown and march in Harvard's graduation that June. Our values being a bit more pure, we decided to sit that one out. As we used to tell Patton and Blaine, we were busy stopping a war.
Years later, we briefly met the personable Palmer over at Name Withheld's house. To this day, he's a superb analyst on Orioles' broadcasts. But we can assure you of one thing:
Jim Palmer is no 6-foot-6. Frankly, he never was.