FALSEHOODS, MISSTATEMENTS AND LIES: The possible madness of King Donald Trump!


Part 3—Crazy men tell no lies:
On Tuesday morning, the New York Times did something very exciting.

Above the fold, right there on page one, the dull-witted newspaper placed the word "lie" right in a front-page headline!

Above the fold, out on the front page, there the thrilling headline stood. Donald J. Trump had repeated a lie, the large bold word clump said:

Meeting With Top Lawmakers, Trump Repeats an Election Lie

On the hard-copy front page, that's what the headline said!

Today, we learn an astonishing fact. According to the Times' Dan Barry, editors at the Times "consulted dictionaries" as they tried to decide whether to go with the thrilling term "lie."

Good God. Are the editors new to the planet, or just to the language? Tomorrow, we'll examine Barry's remarkable account of the way the editors reached their daring decision.

For today, let's focus on a peculiar point. The news report which carried that headline didn't say that Donald J. Trump had told or repeated a "lie!"

The headline bore a thrilling word. Below, you see the way the news report began.

The news report didn't say that Trump lied! Thrilling headline included:
SHEAR AND HUETTEMAN (1/24/17): Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers

President Trump used his first official meeting with congressional leaders on Monday to falsely claim that millions of unauthorized immigrants had robbed him of a popular vote majority,
a return to his obsession with the election’s results even as he seeks support for his legislative agenda.

The claim, which he has made before on Twitter, has been judged untrue by numerous fact-checkers. The new president’s willingness to bring it up at a White House reception in the State Dining Room is an indication that he continues to dwell on the implications of his popular vote loss even after assuming power.

Mr. Trump appears to remain concerned that the public will view his victory—and his entire presidency—as illegitimate if he does not repeatedly challenge the idea that Americans were deeply divided about sending him to the White House to succeed President Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump received 304 electoral votes to capture the White House, but he fell almost three million votes short of Hillary Clinton in the popular vote. That reality appears to have bothered him since Election Day, prompting him to repeatedly complain that adversaries were trying to undermine him.

Voting officials across the country have said there is virtually no evidence of people voting illegally, and certainly not millions of them. White House officials did not respond to requests for a comment on Mr. Trump’s discussion of the issue.
The news report said that Trump made a "false claim." It didn't say that Donald J. Trump had told or repeated a "lie."

Alas! So it tends to go at the New York Times, where layers of editors work their will, in layered ways, on the paper's news product. In this case, we were left with a thrilling hybrid:

The headline said that Trump had lied. The report said something different.

For ourselves, we would have tilted toward "unfounded," not "false." But then, we believe that journalists should "use their words" to make accurate statements—accurate statements in which they report the things they actually know.

The New York Times thrilled us rubes with that headline that day. One night before, Lawrence O'Donnell prefigured their boldness with a murky opening segment about the terms "falsehood" and "lie."

For the full transcript, click here.

As he opened his program, O'Donnell explained the basic difference between the two well-known terms. "A lie is the deliberate use of a falsehood with the intention to deceive," the cable star thoughtfully said.

O'Donnell proceeded to offer puzzling assessments about several of Donald J. Trump's alleged lies. He quoted a statement by Trump about the size of his inaugural crowd and, for reasons which didn't seem clear, he said it was merely a falsehood.

Then, he diagnosed a "lie." We're sorry, but this doesn't seem to make sense. To watch the full tape, click this:
O'DONNELL (1/23/17): The same man who told you he saw a million, a million and a half people [at his inaugural], also told you he saw this:

TRUMP (videotape): I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.

O'DONNELL: "I watched thousands and thousands of people." Now, we all know, for an absolute fact, that he did not watch that because that never happened.

Thousands and thousands of people cheering as that building was coming down. So we know that that's a lie. That's what Donald Trump looks like when he's lying.
Do we know, for an absolute fact, that "that never happened?"

Not exactly, no. But for argument's sake, let's say we do. Let's assume that we do know, for an absolute fact, that the scene Trump described never happened.

By normal assessment, that wouldn't mean that Donald J. Trump was lying when he made his statement! If he somehow thinks his claim is true, that would mean his claim isn't a lie.

The assessment turns on what the speaker knows and believes, not on what O'Donnell might think or know out there in corporate cable land. Duh. If a speaker somehow believes a false claim, the false claim isn't a lie.

According to O'Donnell, Trump's wild statement about his inaugural crowd was a falsehood, nothing more. But his statement about what he saw on September 11? That was an actual lie!

Truth to tell, O'Donnell's analyses of these claims didn't much seem to make sense. But then, we live in a world where our highest-ranking journalists break out their dictionaries to consider the nuances of the complex term "lie."

As we've noted for the past nineteen years, the analytical skills of our high-ranking scribes are often observed in the absence. That said, O'Donnell encountered intriguing push-back this night when he turned to his pair of guests.

First, he turned to Indira Lakshmanan, a Washington columnist for the Boston Globe. O'Donnell mentioned the statement Trump had made that very night, in which Trump claimed that he lost the popular vote because of 3-5 million illegal votes.

"Is that a falsehood, or is that a lie?" O'Donnell dull-wittedly asked. And uh-oh! After pandering to her host and dodging his question a bit, Lakshmanan finally offered this answer
LAKSHMANAN: He continues to repeatedly repeat this thing, that has absolutely no verification or evidence behind it, of illegal immigrants voting, and continues to say that he won a landslide in the electoral college, when we know it was one of the lowest electoral college victories in history.

So I don't know. You could say this is a falsehood [and not a lie], in the sense that Donald Trump has probably convinced himself and believes it.


Can he tell the difference between these falsehoods that he continually repeats? Is he intentionally lying, or has he convinced himself of this?
Truer words were never spoken. "I don't know," Lakshmanan said.

She seemed to suggest the possibility that Trump may really believe his improbable claims. She seemed to say that this would mean that he isn't actually "lying."

Does Trump believe his improbable claims? We have no freaking idea. But when O'Donnell turned to David Corn, he got even stronger push-back.

Has Donald J. Trump been telling "lies," the way that New York Times headline said? Corn suggested a possibility which would likely be even more troubling.

Corn also pandered to his host a bit. After that, he suggested that Donald J. Trump may be some version of crazy:
CORN: In your wonderful opening, you set up sort of a dichotomy between lies and falsehoods. I think, you did, you know, you got it right.

But there might be a third option, which is delusions. And I'm not being overly glib when I say that.

He may really believe that he saw thousands of people protest, you know, cheering on the 9/11 tragedy in Jersey City. He may really believe that there are 5 million people, because it's convenient to believe this.

He may really believe he wasn't making fun of a reporter.

You know, during one of the debates, Hillary Clinton said, "You called global warming climate change a hoax created by the Chinese." He said, "No, I did not." That was exactly what he had tweeted. She was quoting him accurately. He may have believed he never said it. Maybe he forgot.

So I think there's something about his processing of information, to be maybe charitable about it, that still leaves a lot of mystery. I mean, it's mystifying. And when he goes to the CIA headquarters, as he did on Saturday, and has that bizarre statement and says I've been on Time magazine's cover more than anybody.

Well, he probably believes that, even though it's not true. It's going to be a big problem, I think, for the media to cover this well and fairly.
Does Trump really believe the crazy-seeming things he keeps asserting? Corn said he actually might!

Taking care "to be maybe charitable about it," Corn didn't specifically say that Donald J. Trump might be some version of crazy. He did introduce the word "delusions" into the discussion this night. And he said Trump "probably believes" his crazy claims, even though his claims aren't true.

Does Trump believe his crazy claims? Like Lakshmanan, we don't know. Given Trump's apparent serial lunacy, we have no way to be sure.

Corn said that Donald J. Trump probably does believe these claims. We don't have the slightest idea how he reached that judgment.

We do know this—it's embarrassing to watch the mainstream press corps fumble along with these concepts. The concept of "lie" is tremendously basic, except at the New York Times or on O'Donnell's program, where one wild statement is a lie and another wild claim is a falsehood.

Dead men tell no tales, it's been said. They also wear no plaid.

It'a also true that crazy people tell no lies. As a general matter, we don't say that a deranged person is telling a "lie" when he says something that's objectively crazily false.

Does Trump believe the things he says? We have no way of knowing. Is it possible that Trump is some version of delusional / crazy / deranged?

We hate to kill all the L-bomb fun, but we'd say it plainly is.

Tuesday night, on Don Lemon's CNN show, Nicholas Kristof raised this very question during a discussion of Trump's possible "lies."
Is it possible that Trump is "a crackpot," Kristof explicitly asked—that he isn't a liar at all?

Kristof was raising a possibility which seems quite obvious to us. After he did so, he turned tail and ran. Our big scribes tend to be like that.

Tomorrow, we'll examine what Kristof said that night. Very briefly, he opens this morning's column with the same rumination.

As we watched Kristof on Lemon's show, it seemed to us that he was unwilling to gaze into the abyss. It's more fun to use a thrilling term, to tell us that King Donald "lied."

The game has been played this childish way for at least the past twenty-five years. Our journalists run and hide from the truth.

They break out their Webster's to parse "cat" and "dog." This childish behavior has gone on forever. It helps explain how we all got here.

Still coming: Why do we have so many words? And why do these questions matter?


  1. TL;DR - It's not a lie if you're delusional.

  2. It is not realistically possible for millions of undocumented people to have voted but Somerby clings to "unfounded" instead of "false". Somerby's standard appears to be absolute impossibility. He won't accept improbability to the point of impossibility (which is the best you get in the world of facts, not logic). This is tiresome.

    Many people will not understand the hair Somerby is splitting and may believe he is siding with Trump on this, excusing or even exonerating him.

    There is no virtue in this linguistic purity. It indicates a lack of understanding of empirical thinking. It is a kind of inflexibility that people should resist as they get older.

    1. I think the point is that it may be best to stay away from inflammatory terms, such as lies, falsehoods, etc., and just concentrate on describing the events in the most accurate and detailed way possible.

    2. I believe you are correct, 2:27, and, Ilya, inflammatory terms can be inflammatory even when they are the most accurate so, even though "lie" is inflammatory, in Trump's case I believe it is also the most accurate term. Besides 2:27's point that Somerby is clinging onto an unreasonable standard of absolute certainty, there is something else Bob is missing. So far the illustrative examples Bob has given are lies that Trump has REPEATED. Bob is treating them as one-off statements. Maybe the first time Trump said he witnessed on video "thousands of people cheering on 9/11" or that "millions voted illegally" the term "unfounded" might be the best way to describe those statements. But once those statements are out there they can be fact checked and they have been. There is absolutely no evidence for either statement. So, when Trump says "I saw the video" but no such video exists, and the media very publicly pointed out no such video exists, and they then made Trump's surrogates aware that no such video exists, then when Trump repeats the statement, which he did, it has to be called a lie. There can no longer be any doubt when he repeats a false claim without providing evidence that his statement is a lie. The standard of “knowing” has been met.

  3. Mr. Somerby seems to be lost in sophistry.

    I believe we should be charitable with most people's speech (and writing): we should interpret them in the most generous terms.
    I believe we should be forgiving in the same: we are not computers, we will make factual errors.

    But these beliefs are tempered by the speaker's trustworthiness, and the subject matter under discussion. When the statement is odious or otherwise highly inflammatory, it is incumbent on the speaker to strive for accuracy, more so if you are in a position of power. Trump has made such a claim. It is his responsibility to prove its truthfulness.

    An analogous situation is those who partake in Holocaust denial. We cannot know if they truly believe that millions of Jews, Roma, and others were not murdered, but the weight of human history is against them. Lie is an appropriate term in these cases.

    1. I agree so much with what you are saying. But I think Bob is saying that an objective report should state only known facts. Making value judgments is for pundits, I suppose...or psychiatrists. Or indeed ordinary citizens. (I personally think Trump is a complete fraud and utter liar).

    2. Why should there necessarily be a value judgment attached.
      Wiktionary also defines a lie as,"To convey a false image or impression." Intent is absent. Therefore, "Trump Repeats Lie."

    3. I would say Bob's point is more in the sphere of due diligence than semantics. It is akin to a lawyer saying, "My client is not guilty," rather than "My client is innocent."
      The first requires the accuser to prove otherwise, the second leaves the accuser the opportunity to demand proof of innocence.
      Of course, in criminal proceedings we know how the law resolves this issue.
      If a reporter were to tell Trump that his statement is false, he tacitly directs Trump to prove it. If he calls Trump a liar, Trump can then demand proof of the charge (as his surrogates have done).

  4. The media is deciding there are occasions to use "lie" at the exact moment when no one cares what words they use because they are assumed to be liars.

  5. Trump says something, either on video or on twitter, which then is verifiable; then he says he did not say it, even though he can simply watch the video or read his damn twitter to verify it. So, if he denies such things, and really believes he did not say them, despite the clear evidence, then he is utterly insane. Hard to believe he could really be that crazy...easier to imagine he is lying. But both possibilities seem plausible. Sad.

  6. If you are confused read Harry Frankfurt's "Bullshit." Here's the link for whole text:http://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0LEVvfTEopYsRsA0JUPxQt.;_ylu=X3oDMTByNXQ0NThjBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwM1BHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg--/RV=2/RE=1485472595/RO=10/RU=http%3a%2f%2fwww.stoa.org.uk%2ftopics%2fbullshit%2fpdf%2fon-bullshit.pdf/RK=0/RS=925_Zk20pK5mQtjRH8.1_z.PYO8-

    Then read Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"

    All your confusion will be cleared up. Essentially if you INTEND to deceive others it's a lie.

    1. And Bob would say that we don't KNOW his intentions. (Not defending that view, by the way).

  7. Is it really "delusional/crazy/deranged" for him to say something like "I have been on the cover of Time magazine more than anybody else".

    Okay, that does appear to be very delusional if my quick google search is correct that he has only been on 11 times. I thought it would be a lot more, and that he could easily be in the top ten (if anybody cared enough to make such a list).

    Some of the partisan hate though seems to me just as deranged as anything else. And it seems just as dishonest.

    I was rather surprised when I finally saw the tape of Trump "mocking the disabled reporter". Something I notice that Corn was still talking about, and, of course, one of the main themes of the Streep speech three weeks ago.

    That picture though that I have probably seen 1000 times now (aha, do you see how I delusionally exaggerate? (and also apparently use fake words like delusionally which is underlined in red as if it is something Jesus said.) That picture appears to be crap. Nobody who watches that speech would see anything like that picture. However, when somebody has a camera taking over 100 pictures a minute they can capture an awkward pose and then use that picture for political purposes.

    And for hate-mongering purposes. Political partisans seem to want a reason to hate, and to be able to hate with God on their side. Or some writers seem to want to stir up hate in their readers. Hate sells, after all.

    1. Hate, apparently, wins elections for second-place finishers.

    2. Well put, Dr. T. A lot of people seem to think Trump is equivalent to the devil. They think he's evil on every issue. E.g., some assume Trump is homophobic, even though he supported gay marriage before Hillary or Obama did. Some think he's anti-Semitic, even though he's very close to his Jewish and son-in-law. Many assume he's a racist, with almost no evidence. The only evidence is that his company was accused, but not convicted, of discriminating against blacks 44 years ago. Forty-four years ago!

    3. David you obfuscating hack, Trump is AGAINST same sex marriage. Even worse, while decrying illegal Mexicans as rapists (even though their crime rate is lower than US citizens), Trump himself has raped. He raped his ex wife and stands accused of raping a 13 year old at one of his good buddy Jeffrey Epstein's sex parties. Trump's campaign ran on hate, he stirred up and fed bait to the racist, sexist, and xenophobic people in this country. It is funny to think back how much you hated Trump during the primary, David, making many nasty comments here against him. But yes David, Trump is evil. He lost the popular vote by a whopping huge margin, barely won the electoral vote (by less than 80k votes), and is the least popular inaugurated president in history, all due to his horrible behavior.

      Dr T it is clear Trump was mocking the disabled reporter, from the video. Listen to what Trump says as he starts to mimic the disability, "You should see this guy." Yes Trump is evil, and a liar to boot. Fortunately, due to Trump's horrible behavior, this is how the country sees Trump, more and more each day.

  8. Just because one is paranoid, doesn't mean that someone isn't out to get them. And just because one is delusional, doesn't mean that they are not lying. Nonetheless, it's worth more to bring people to understand the outrageous nature of Trump's claims, than to jump into characterizing them as lies; the latter immediately causes an adverse reaction in those who are not of that mind set to begin with.

    1. What Trump says on the vote fraud issue, and so much else that he comes up with, is objectively ridiculous. Rather than dwelling on whether or not he is "lying" - and there are different kinds of lies - the real point is that what he says is absurd or ridiculous. But I guess the media are prohibited from characterizing what he says in that manner - too subjective I guess.

  9. We know as a matter of fact that Trump was in his apartment on the East Side of Manhattan on 9/11. So that his tale that "And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down." is either a lie or a false statement made while being mentally impaired. Even allowing for his claiming that he saw it on TV (false, because no such "thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down" was ever shown on video), it's still a lie or a falsehood uttered while being mentally impaired. So, please, no more of "Do we know, for an absolute fact, that 'that never happened'? Not exactly, no." Indeed, we do know that it never happened. Consequently, he's either a liar or suffering from a mental impairment. Period.

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