When schoolchildren still liked Ike: Within the political realm, when can a journalist safely "call a lie a lie?"
In Tuesday's New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg recalled one fairly clearcut situation. We were twelve when this lie was revealed. We recall being puzzled, surprised, disappointed:
STOLBERG (8/8/17): One of the first modern presidents to wrestle publicly with a lie was Dwight D. Eisenhower in May 1960, when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down while in Soviet airspace.Had Eisenhower made a "mistake?" More specifically, had he made a moral mistake? Was that the way the public came to view his behavior?
The Eisenhower administration lied to the public about the plane and its mission, claiming it was a weather aircraft. But when the Soviets announced that the pilot had been captured alive, Eisenhower reluctantly acknowledged that the plane had been on an intelligence mission—an admission that shook him badly, the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said.
“He just felt that his credibility was such an important part of his person and character, and to have that undermined by having to tell a lie was one of the deepest regrets of his presidency,” Ms. Goodwin said.
In the short run, Eisenhower was hurt; a summit meeting with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev collapsed in acrimony. But the public eventually forgave him, Ms. Goodwin said, because he owned up to his mistake.
We don't know. For various geopolitical reasons, it made sense to issue a "cover story," until it turned out that the pilot had survived and was in Soviet custody.
At that point, the "cover story" fell apart, in a badly embarrassing way. But it seemed pretty clear that Ike had told, or commissioned, a lie.
We recall being surprised by the fact that an American president had lied. But it was pretty clear that he'd actually done so. No one believed that Eisenhower had been ignorant of the U-2 flights. No one thought that he really believed the initial "cover story," in which the United States denied conducting surveillance flights over the Soviet Union.
This was a fairly clearcut lie. No one thinks that Eisenhower was weirdly ignorant, out to lunch, out of his mind or delusional.
Our day-to-day situations today are much less clearcut. Presumably, some, many or all of Donald J. Trump's many misstatements are lies. But we're not sure why any reporter would think he can tell in any particular instance.
Eisenhower wasn't nuts, disordered or delusional; he didn't seem to be struggling with some form of early onset dementia. Such facts aren't clear about Donald J. Trump.
(Luckily, he had no chance to win last fall, barring a weather event!)
Such facts aren't clear about Donald J. Trump. That's why it's hard to score his endless list of weird misstatements. Kevin Drum asks a good question, and conducts an interesting analysis, in this new post, right here.
As we stated yesterday: Later, Stolberg wrote this:
STOLBERG: Many of Mr. Trump’s lies—like the time he boasted that he had made the “all-time record in the history of Time Magazine” for being on its cover so often—are somewhat trivial, and “basically about him polishing his ego,” said John Weaver, a prominent Republican strategist.Trump's statement about the Time covers was wrong. But what made Stolberg, or perhaps some meddling editor, think this erroneous statement could be scored as a "lie?"
We don't have the slightest idea. Meanwhile, the concepts involved in this are about as complex as 2 + 2. When our reporters "reason" this way, we wonder about their origins, and about their ability to get anything right.
This is highly remedial work. But our press corps has shown, for many long years, that they tend to have an amazing lack of elementary, basic skills.
What explains their many misstatements? To this day, after nineteen years, we have no clear idea.