Were journos exposed to too much lead?


The evidence mounts:
On Saturday morning, March 4, Donald J. Trump issued the tweets heard round the world.

Was he lying when he issued his tweets? Is it possible that he really believed the things he tweeted that day?

We don't know how to answer that question. Luckily, Mika Brzezinski does. We quote her from today's Morning Joe:
BRZEZINSKI (3/21/17): Who actually prompted this, Michael Steele? Where did this start? Did it start with those tweets on a Saturday morning that were, apparently, lies?

I think we can now actually equivocally [sic] say the president was lying on a Saturday morning when he—I don't know, was it four or five tweets?—accusing a former president of a felony.
To watch this statement, click here, skip ahead to roughly 6:50.

For the record, it was four tweets that day. From context, we'll guess Mika meant we can "un-equivocally" say that Trump was lying, though we've recorded what she actually said.

Was Donald J. Trump lying that Saturday morning? We have no idea. We find the question intriguing for two different reasons.

First, we're struck by what this topic tells us about the intellectual skills of the mainstream press corps. Let's kick that around a bit.

We don't know why Mika seems to think that we now know Trump was lying. To us, it seems entirely possible that he believed the claims he thundered that morning.

We don't mean that as a compliment. But if he believed the things he tweeted that day, that would, by normal construction, mean he wasn't "lying."

That said, the skill level of our mainstream press corps is often remarkably low. Consider David Leonhardt's blustery column on this topic in today's New York Times.

When Leonhardt appeared on the scene, he was sold to us the rubes as one of the press corps' smart guys. Today, his column reads like a parody of competent thought. This is the way he begins:
LEONHARDT (3/21/17): The ninth week of Donald Trump’s presidency began with the F.B.I. director calling him a liar.

The director, the very complicated James Comey, didn’t use the L-word
in his congressional testimony Monday. Comey serves at the pleasure of the president, after all. But his meaning was clear as could be. Trump has repeatedly accused Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones, and Comey explained there is “no information that supports” the claim.

I’ve previously argued that not every untruth deserves to be branded with the L-word, because it implies intent and somebody can state an untruth without doing so knowingly. George W. Bush didn’t lie when he said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and Obama didn’t lie when he said people who liked their current health insurance could keep it. They made careless statements that proved false (and they deserved much of the criticism they got).

But the current president of the United States lies. He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before...
As he starts, Leonhardt says that Comey called Trump a liar without "using the L-word."

Could it be that Comey eschewed the L-word because he wasn't calling Trump a liar? Please please please don't ask.

The much more ridiculous part of that passage comes in paragraph 3, where Leonhardt says he has "previously argued that not every untruth deserves to be branded with the L-word."

It's hard to believe how dumb that statement is. You can't "argue" that some untruths aren't lies; the statement is true by definition. You might as well "argue" that some human beings aren't fifty years old, or that some married persons aren't men.

That pompous declaration by Leonhardt is eye-poppingly dumb. Meanwhile, Bush and Obama didn't lie? How does Leonhardt know that?

Whatever! As we said, the intellectual skill level of the corps is often remarkably low. In his work on lead exposure, Kevin Drum has often noted the fact that everyone over a certain age was heavily exposed in youth. When we read work like Leonhardt's column, we tend to recall what Drum has said.

Was Trump lying that Saturday morning? We have no idea.

As a general matter, is he a liar? We still aren't even real sure about that.

Is Donald J. Trump a liar? Or could an accurate diagnosis perhaps be more troubling than that? To puzzle over this second set of questions, consider this recent post by Josh Marshall.

Marshall calls Trump a liar too. As he does, he abandons an earlier possible diagnosis without explaining why he does so. This strikes us as weak, lazy, hurried work:
MARSHALL: Now we've gone to the ridiculous lengths of having actual congressional investigations. And the representatives of the President's party in Congress have said there is no evidence that this happened. They are of course hanging on this 'no evidence' locution to avoid the discomfort of calling their party's leader a liar. The press shouldn't share that loyalty.

In any other context, when we have a claim that it wildly improbable verging on impossible on its face, when no evidence is provided and when outside investigations say there is definitively no evidence whatsoever, we call those claims lies. Or the rantings of an unhinged person if we want to grant some accommodation for mental incapacity. If someone says aliens landed in their backyard and has a similar lack of any evidence whatsoever, we call that person a liar or a crazy person. We say it's not true. Full stop.

As we know, by definition, you cannot prove a negative. You can only show there is no evidence whatsoever to support the claim. But this isn't a seminar on philosophy and empiricism. We call these lies.
Marshall jumps around in this presentation. He starts by saying that we should call Trump a liar. In the second paragraph we've posted, he seems to offer two possible choices—Donald J. Trump may be a liar, or he may be "crazy"/"unhinged."

One paragraph later, that second possibility seems to be gone (again), with no explanation given. We get the joy of dropping an L-bomb. In the process, though, we may be getting the wrong or less significant diagnosis.

Marshall moves away from the possibility that Trump is simply "crazy" or "unhinged." For ourselves, we feel disinclined to do that.

Is it possible that Donald J. Trump truly is some version of unhinged/crazy? Sadly, we're afraid it is. Since he holds the nuclear codes, this is a much more serious possibility than the one on which Marshall seems to settle.

When Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott told Richard Nixon he had to resign, Nixon succumbed to reality. What would Trump do in a situation like that?

A mere "liar" would know it was time to go. Do you feel sure that Donald J. Trump would react like that?

We don't feel sure of that at all. What has Professor Wang said?

Regarding the reasoning there: "If someone says aliens landed in their backyard and has a similar lack of any evidence whatsoever," is it true that "we call that person a liar or a crazy person?"

Is it true that "we call these lies?"

Those statements strike us as perfect nonsense. In truth, we don't "call" such people anything at all, since there are no such people.

Just a guess: No one reading Marshall's column has ever been told, by a neighbor or friend, that aliens landed in their back yard but they can offer no evidence.

People never make such claims. For that reason, "we" don't "call them" anything.

It seems to us that Marshall basically found a way to state a preferred diagnosis. It seems to us that the ultimate truth may be much more troubling, vastly more dangerous.


  1. Maybe the pedantic Bob would prefer critics call President Trumperdink a bullshiatter rather than a liar. But honestly, what freaking difference does it make at this point?

    Most normal people, without having to philosophically parse the semantics of whether an individual knowingly told a lie, could see through this smokescreen pretty easily. If you have a president who continues to push falsehoods, even doubling and tripling down on them, long after he has been told that there is no evidence to support such falsehoods, that's a pretty good sign he's lying.

    Bob clearly loves telling liberals how stupid we are, but in this case I think he's trying to be too clever by half, and failing in the process.

    1. I think the point of this column is that there actually is a significant difference between lying and mental instability i.e. a liar with nukes is not nearly as dangerous as a madman with nukes. And I agree.

      As for Bob's notion that liberals are acting stupidly, what of it? He's not saying that liberals are dumber than conservatives. Not everything has to be a comparison between the parties, unless that's your explicit goal. Clearly, Bob aligns more with liberals. But if our side is fucking up, isn't it good to acknowledge that? Otherwise we're just acting like you-know-who. Acting smarter could lead to actual success in politics. Sometimes it seems like our team is indifferent to success. Why take such umbrage? You should never identify so closely with an ideology that you can't bear criticism of it.

    2. Of course it's good, and necessary, to acknowledge when our side is fucking up. And I don't identify so closely with any ideology that I can't bear to have it criticized. But what Bob is doing here seems more like smug sophistry to me. It's easy to criticize but hard to propose real solutions. I get plenty of the former from Bob, not so much of the latter.

      I think what really undermines Bob's credibility is that he never seems to call out conservative media and right-wing disinformation. Geez, I'm not a fan of Rachel Maddow or Frank Rich either, but to act like they're so much worse that Sean Hannity or Bill O' Reilly strikes me as more than a bit deceptive.

    3. I hear you, but I take it for granted that Bob agrees with me that those fuckwits are basically beyond redemption. He seems to occasionally indicate as much. Sorry for suggesting you are blinded by ideology.

  2. I don't think Trump was lying per se, I think he is stupid enough to believe things he hears on Fox News and repeats them.

  3. In order for us to stop calling Trump a liar, he would need to stop telling lies.

  4. Mika Brzezinski also shows her ignorance when when she asserts that Trump was "accusing a former president of a felony." The (hypothetical) wiretapping need not have been illegal. There are conceivable scenarios by which Trump could have been legally wiretapped.

    1. D &C he did characterize his predecessor in office as being either "bad" or "sick" (perhaps unintentionally projecting) What about that?

    2. It is a felony for the former president to order anyone to be wiretapped.

    3. Anon - the AG, who reports to the President, can ask the FISA Court for permission to wiretap any American. If the FISA Coourt approves it, that sort of wiretapping would be legal. Given the suspicion of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, that sort of legal wiretapping was within the realm of possibility.

      AD/MA -- I didn't know about that comment, but it doesn't surprise me. Trump has a history of making very nasty, often false, attacks on his political enemies.

    4. This is like saying that the mayor can put people in jail because the police chief can. That would be corrupt too.

  5. I discussed this issue in a post a few weeks ago (http://tony-greco.com/2017/01/29/mendacity-or-delusion/). My argument, in short, was that while there are instances where Trump may seem genuinely delusional, there are plenty of instances where he clearly must know that he is not telling the truth. There should be no question that he is, in fact, a brazen serial liar.

  6. Hey Bob, do you actually believe the stuff you write? I have no idea. Only you can answer that. If people in the media want to call Trump mendacious rather than tragically misinformed, only Trump can square that up. Leaving the question of whether Trump is a liar or misinformed to Trump's opinion on the subject is not particularly helpful. You do understand that. If you are observant and the least bit sophisticated about his pattern of behavior you can categorically denounce it. Or you can parse words in a manner that makes you feel superior to others in the media. Go and pat yourself on the head.

  7. It is mathematically possible that Donald Trump has no doubt that all his statements are strict, literal facts. Odds are he is both a conscious, deliberate liar and emotionally unbalanced . Sad.

  8. Practically speaking it makes no difference whether Trump lies or is unhinged. The fact is he is spouting things that are simply untrue and regardless of whether they are lies or delusional rants, what matters is pointing out the untruthfulness.

  9. So old, conservative, white Bob is defending Trump's lies. Well I guess liars have to stick together. The only bigger liar than Trump is Bob.