THE DANIEL DALE EXPERIENCE: Lawrence O'Donnell's favorite word!


Lawrence [HEART] Daniel Dale:
Lawrence O'Donnell has conducted a long love affair with the tricky word, "lie."

He loves to accuse other people of lying. There's plainly a story behind this impulse. It's a story we've never heard told.

Whatever! Lawrence's backstory to the side, we've said that "lie" is a tricky word for several basic reasons:

On the merits, the claim that a statement is a "lie" implies that you know a speaker's intent and state of mind. As a general matter, you won't.

On the politics, the claim that a statement is a "lie" will often be self-defeating. The claim will open a distracting (and evasive) second debate, in which you'll be challenged to explain how you know that a certain statement is an actual lie.

Defenders of wildly inaccurate claims often escape in this manner.

For decades, it was conventional to avoid the tricky word "lie" in journalism and in politics. In our view, this was good practice. (In appropriate circumstances, we'd be more forgiving of the related term, "apparent lie.")

That said, we liberals have fallen in love with the thrilling word "lie" in this age of Trump. It's easy to see the reason. Donald Trump traffics in blatant misstatements in much the way other folk breathe.

That said, which of Trump's blatant misstatements are lies? How can we tell when a false claim is an actual lie, not just a statement of ignorance—or perhaps, in the case of Trump, an artifact of mental illness?

We liberals! We constantly marvel at Trump's ignorance, then accuse him of telling lies. This brings us to Lawrence O'Donnell's segment last night with the Toronto Star's full-time Trump fact-checker, the widely praised Daniel Dale.

In our view, Dale seems completely sincere in his various claims about Trump. Lawrence, though, seemed very careless as he profiled his guest.

First, Lawrence teased his upcoming segment. He said he would be interviewing the man "every future historian of the Trump era will depend on."

After a commercial break, out came Dale. Lawrence described his work:
O'DONNELL (11/15/18): Daniel Dale is writing a first draft of history. He is the Washington reporter who is keeping an invaluable record of Donald Trump's lying. All future historians of the Trump presidency will be reading Daniel Dale's work.

Daniel Dale's meticulous record of Trump lies shows us that during the campaign season, Donald Trump did the impossible, or at least what many of us would have thought was impossible. Donald Trump actually increased his lying.

Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, who has tirelessly fact-checked every single Trump lie, reports that in the month leading up to the midterm elections Donald Trump made 815 false claims. That's the same amount of lying told in his first 286 days in the presidency.

Daniel Dale reports that Trump made 664 false claims in October.
That was double his previous record for a calendar month, 320 in August.

Trump averaged 26.3 false claims per day
in the month leading up to the midterm election on November 6th. In 2017, he averaged 2.9 per day. Donald Trump made more false claims in the two months leading up to the midterms, 1,176, than he did in all of the previous year, all of 2017, 1,111.

The three most dishonest single days of the Donald Trump presidency were the three days leading up to the election:
74 on election eve, Nov 5; 58 on November 3; and 54 on November 4.

But the lying didn't work. The Democrats won back the House of Representatives, which means that special counsel Robert Mueller has at least the House of Representatives supporting his investigation. And so, of course, today Donald Trump resumed his relentless lying on Twitter about the Mueller investigation.

Joining our discussion now is, first draft of history, historian Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief at the Toronto Star.
At some point, the transcript will allegedly show up here.

We note just one point about that speech. Every step of the way, Lawrence equated "false claims" with "lies."

As we all know, that isn't smart. As everyone knows, some false claims are actually lies. Many other false claims are not.

In the case of a man as poorly informed as Trump, it may not always be easy to say which of his various blatant misstatements are lies. But our tribe has fallen in love with the L-bomb, and we love to deploy it.

(This actually started under President Bush, when David Corn wrote the book, The Lies of George W. Bush. In his preface, Corn presented a standard definition of "lies," then said that he was adopting a different, looser standard for misstatements by presidents. He had already produced a list of "lies" by President Clinton which stretched the traditional concept beyond recognition. Increasingly, we like to play the game this way in this, the age of the cable news bomb and the flamboyant pander to tribe.)

Last night, Lawrence seemed to be drawing no distinction between "false claims" and "lies." As his introduction continued, so did his use of this loose standard, along with a metric ton of overstatement about the future value of Dale's work:
O'DONNELL (continuing directly): Daniel Dale, I know you're not usually introduced as a historian, but that's the way I'm looking at your work.

DALE: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: I know it is going to be just an invaluable asset. I know what it's going to feel like 50 years from now for historians to be able to go through every one of these numbers.

What do the numbers tell us?
A lot of us read the words of the tweet. And I take all sorts of interpretations about the state of the president's mind and the collapse of the president's mind and what he's trying to accomplish with a tweet when I look at the words of the tweet.

But you're looking at something else. You're looking at the size of the whole lying system. What do the numbers tell us?
Our view? It's borderline silly to think that you can sensibly count the number of someone's "false claims." Beyond that, it's odd to talk about "the collapse of the president's mind" while insisting that his various false statements are lies.

A previous segment in O'Donnell's show ran under this signage: "Trump's 'level of insanity.' " But if a person is insane, should his wild misstatements be seen as lies?

A person whose mind has collapsed isn't necessarily a liar. That said, people like O'Donnell have tended to avoid the question of mental illness in favor of the use of the L-bomb.

Personally, we found O'Donnell's discussion with Dale depressing all the way through. The lack of nuance the two men displayed has ruled the press corps for decades now. In October 2000, this lack of nuance had O'Donnell going on The McLaughlin Group to reassert the standard beloved press corps claim that Candidate Gore was a vast troubling liar.

(To prove this point, O'Donnell misrepresented something Gore had said a year before. The point had been clarified long before. Was this damaging misstatement by Lawrence a lie? Children are dead all over Iraq because weirdos like Lawrence did this.)

Progressive interests have withered and died under the reign of these low-skilled corporate hacks. Dale strikes us as completely sincere, but in these highly perilous times, he doesn't strike us as sufficiently sharp. This is what he said as he continued:
DALE (continuing directly): I took a few things from this period. One, I think the sheer frequency tells us that the president and his team knew that he could not win this election campaigning honestly. It turns out he couldn't win it even campaigning dishonestly, but he knew that he couldn't do it telling the truth.

What also struck me about this period was that Trump's lying is often him going off-script. It's him ad-libbing, deviating from his prepared text.

In this case, many of the big lies were written into his rally speeches. These were deliberate. And so this was a strategic decision to lie as a campaign strategy.

I think it was also interesting what he was lying about.
Of these 815 in the 31 days leading up to the midterms, 201 of them had to do with immigration. And so these weren't his usual stretches or exaggerations or, you know, trivial little claims about crowd sizes. These were massive, massive fabrications.

You know, this was him saying Democrats are going to abolish the borders. Democrats are going to let illegal immigrants vote in this election. Democrats are going to give illegal immigrants free cars. So he was simply making big stuff up to scare his base and it turned out it didn't work.
What was Donald Trump lying about? Eventually, we got some examples. According to Dale, one such lie was this:

"Democrats are going to let illegal immigrants vote in this election."

Democrats are going to let illegal immigrants vote? Given Trump's apparent disorder; given the "collapse of his mind" and "the level of his insanity," does anyone really feel sure that this highly disordered man doesn't believe a statement like that? And if he believes a statement like that, in what way is it a lie?

Daniel Dale seems wholly sincere; we don't think he's sufficiently sharp for the times. That said, Lawrence has been flamboyantly unbalanced for many years. In fairness, overwrought flamboyance tends to be good for business.

Our society is under attack by deeply dangerous forces. Great skill is required to fight this war. Do Dale and O'Donnell have what it takes? How in the world do you think we liberals got into this mess in the first place?

Coming Monday: Dale spots a lie on Reliable Sources. Also, Marvin Kalb's speech

For extra credit: Which statement is easier to defend?
Donald Trump keeps telling lies.
Donald Trump keeps making blatant misstatements.
"Lies" reinforces tribal war. "Blatant misstatements" is just as potent, easier by far to defend.


  1. The only lie that matters for a politician, is promising something during the campaign, and then ignoring it once they get elected.

    Therefore, Barry The Demigod is probably the worst liar in history, and Donald The Spectacular is most honest politician in history.

    1. That's why the middle class received a tax cut before the midterms, as promised, even though Congress was not in session. Because Trump keeps his promises.

    2. Trump promised $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending. He’s 1 percent of the way there.

    3. My favorite lie by Captain Chickenshit.

      Trump says he wants to talk to Mueller, would do so under oath

      "I am looking forward to it, actually," Trump said, when asked if he was going to talk to Mueller. "Here is the story: There has been no collusion whatsoever. There is no obstruction whatsoever. And I am looking forward to it."

      Bwahahahaha!!!! The fucking coward can't even complete his open book take home test with a table full of lawyers helping him.

      Little Donny Chickenshit, Putin's puppet.

    4. Deranged dembot hatred is a beautiful thing. Mm mmm good.

    5. Trump needs to run the written answers by (his boss) Putin, before he turns them into Mueller.

  2. "Every step of the way, Lawrence equated "false claims" with "lies."

    It doesn't matter whether Trump believes his lies. These are lies by intent because it is the responsibility of the president to make sure his statements are factually accurate. Other presidents have fact checkers for that purpose, people who vet their public statements. This idea that Trump cannot be accused of lying because he makes no attempt to be accurate is plainly wrong.

    Somerby seems inclined to call whatever Trump does "mental illness". That maligns the many people who are mentally ill but do not lie, cheat, steal, commit treason, etc. Sociopaths lie frequently -- it is part of the diagnosis. However, they believe their own lies while they are telling them. Does that mean they are not lying? Of course not.

    When we let go of our sense of what is true or not, we confuse reality with fantasy, we become ungrounded, that makes our ability to navigate the world impaired. We do not need to join Trump in his obvious impairment by treating his many lies as "apparent falsehoods" when they are obviously untrue. We need to maintain our own reality testing. To do that, we need to call Trump what he so obviously is, a chronic liar.

    Somerby's insistence that we cannot know when someone is lying is unhelpful, to say the least. Trump isn't on trial for lying -- he is criticized for being a terrible president, who lies. It is "easier to defend" a statement that he makes misstatements, but it is more important to acknowledge that this President is a liar. Because a liar will not be trusted, whereas someone who makes a misstatement will be trusted again. And this isn't about defending our own statements but about defending our country from Trump's massive malfeasance.

    1. I agree with your cautionary point that losing focus on what is true or false makes life dangerous and difficult. But I disagree with your follow up point that this recommends treating all Trump false statements as lies. I would draw a contrary lesson: that clinging fast to truth should mean trying to be as accurate as possible, and duly skeptical where we cannot know for sure. Trump often (not always) appears to have no place in his mind for truths that don't serve his needs - literally that they do not exist for him, he cannot entertain their existence or possibility. Calling him a liar seems to me often to understate the cause for concern and the need to do something about it.

    2. Substituting "apparent falsehoods" for "lies" is hardly joining Trump or letting go of our sense of what is true or not. Lol.

      "Apparent falsehoods" is more refined. It's just as true. But it ultimately has more power. We could buy ourselves some power by using that instead of "lies".

      But you should be happy because your view is a accorded by most of the media and Somerby's is not. So the spectral fears you have of becoming ungrounded and, en masse, having an impaired ability to navigate the world after using a more refined and less caustic word are thus far, held at bay. We remain grounded!

    3. "Lying" just feels better. It's overplaying your hand unnecessarily. Playing to win means making claims that are 100 percent supportable.

    4. @5:10, if you think protecting the truth is unnecessary, you need to reread Orwell's 1984.

    5. @5:54
      Yes, claims that are 100% supportable, like, instead of saying Trump is lying, why not follow Somerby’s 100% supportable suggestion that Trump is mentally ill or insane. Journalists should get right on that.

      Or possibly, anyone who gives this kind of advice maybe shouldn’t be listened to.

    6. 1108, 114

      I regret to inform you, your teenage level slippery slope arguments are sloppy immature, and incoherent. I'm going to have to give you a D for this semester but do have a wonderful winter break.;)

    7. Love him or hate him, Somerby has been dead on for decades about the consequences of mainstream media's zeal for gossip and trivialities as they sacrifice ratings for objectivity, often leaving the truth dead as leaves on the highway.

      Donald Trump got $55 million worth in free advertising space from mainstream media — $16 million worth of that came from the New York Times - early in the game when he was not even close to leading the Republican field. They pumped him up and disproportionately covered his circus sideshow.

      It is the mainstream media, the people to which he is addressing here about "lying", that pumped Trump up and made him president! Somerby had called that all along. And now that Trump is President, the very media that put him there are rolling in bucks. Go figure.

      You would think that Somerby would deserve a listen.

      Why is it you attack the messenger and not the message?

      "Lies" reinforces tribal war. "Blatant misstatements" is just as potent, easier by far to defend."

      What about that do you disagree with?

      But it is true that this media will not use the term "blatant mistatements" anyway, so it doesn't really matter. They know they will profit bigly from sensationalizing it as much as they can. They don't have your interests in mind. The train has left the station.

    8. Yelling "liar" focuses attention on the moral spectacle of Trump at the expense of attention on the falsity of his claims and the need for truth-grounded policies. It's dangerous: makes us feel good and safe when we are not.

    9. @12:11
      And in so doing, you play right into Trump’s hands. By chasing every outrageous lie, you avoid pointing out the degenerate corruption of the source, who has no compunctions about constant blatant lying. Trump IS the problem.

    10. "Lying is the message. It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself. "

      "The media have to find a way to tell the bigger story—the story about the lies rather than the story of the lies; and the story about power that the lies obscure."

    11. @1:28
      I think "chasing every outrageous lie" and "playing into Trump's hands" is what happens by yelling "liar!" Doing so hasn't discredited the source so far. I don't think it will with anyone not already divorced from Trump. The rest of us need to remain truth-grounded so that we can rebuild norms.

    12. He lies 12 times in one sentence. What’s the point refuting his 12 lies? After awhile, you simply assume that nothing he says is true. While you’re on lie #3, he’s already separating children from their parents. Trump is unlike anyone to hold the office. He deliberately lies to cause those liberal “truth-seekers” to waste their time refuting his bs. I think Somerby is addled to think that Trump may not be doing this deliberately. He’s done it his whole life.

    13. Calling Trump a liar doesn't protect any children. Reporting what is being done (or if you prefer, refuting his lies) has to be done. Trump cannot be changed or made to stop lying. He will continue doing so until he is gone. Our concern must be our own grasp of truth, so that Trump's damage can be rolled back .

    14. The media ARE refuting his lies. That would be the news reporters. They are also calling him a liar. Those would be the pundits or opinion writers. Journalism has always consisted of both. It’s not an either/or proposition. When someone tells lie after lie, he is a candidate for being called a liar. But whatever. His followers don’t care about the lies, whether the media refutes them or not.

    15. Calling out lies when justified is good. Calling every false statement a lie degrades discourse, and makes the road back to sanity longer and less certain. Trump degrades everything and everyone he manages to engage. We need to focus on and maintain our own standards intellectual honesty for our own sakes.

    16. "Calling every false statement a lie degrades discourse, and makes the road back to sanity longer and less certain."

      That's why I agree with Somerby. "Lies" reinforces tribal war. "Blatant misstatements" is just as potent, easier by far to defend."

      It seems so obvious but people are so enervated and shaken by senor Trump they can't seem to control themselves. I speak now of the rank and file like many of the commenters here. The media's employment of the term is sinister I would argue because it plays on the rank and file's anxieties while padding their bottom lines. They use it to stir the devil's pot.

  3. All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

    1. He also said "You're gonna have to serve somebody."

  4. "Democrats are going to let illegal immigrants vote? Given Trump's apparent disorder; given the "collapse of his mind"...blah, blah, blah"

    Dear Bob. If "Democrats are going to let illegal immigrants vote" is a lie or misstatement, then literally every fucking statement made by your zombie cult leaders is a lie or misstatement.

    This is normal American political rhetoric, Bob. Your own zombie cult has been doing it for decades.

    And in fact your own zombie rhetoric -- calling The Donald insane -- is a far worse of a misstatement, dear Bob...

  5. Give it up, Mr. Somerby. You have lost this battle. Words mean what most people think they mean when they hear them, and most people think that to "keep making blatant misstatements" means the same thing as to "keep telling lies".

    I like to keep the meaning of words constant too, but am old enough to realize that they do change over time. For most people - certainly for the less well-informed, whom you wish to reach - it's perfectly correct to refer to an unmitigated falsehood as a "lie", without delving to deeply into the liar's state of mind. To pretend otherwise is counterproductive.

  6. Which is it? Somerby essentially argued the possibility that Trump is, or may be, a sociopath here:

    In today’s post, he wonders if Trump’s misstatements arise because Trump is “mentally ill”, or perhaps “ignorant.”

    These two suggestions are mutually exclusive. A sociopath knows he is lying, whereas the second type of notional “mental illness”/ignorance presumes that the “misstatements” are statements of sincere beliefs, or accidents.

    It is useful to remember that Trump himself admits, in his book “Art of the Deal”, that he deliberately employs what he called “truthful hyperbole” to manipulate public reaction. This comes close to an admission of lying. Plus, people who have known and worked with him testify to his lifelong habit of doing exactly this.

    And when you say things like “Donald Trump traffics in blatant misstatements in much the way other folk breathe”, you are kind of admitting a deliberateness to it. A person who sincerely believes his false claims would hardly be described as “trafficking” in them.

    Ultimately, how is it preferable that journalists should speculate about Trump’s “sociopathy” or “mental illness”, when those states of mind are just as inaccessible as a predilection for lying?

  7. What Trump does is worse than lying, or at a different version. Trump has little interest in the truth of what he says. What he cares about is whether his words further his goals. At least, this is the analysis provided by Scott Adams.

    1. Does Adams mention the grift is Trump's goal? Because if he doesn't, Adams should stick with creating unfunny comics, and leave the analysis to someone with a clue.

    2. Good point. The idiot Scott Adams is so proud to point out how great a persuader Donald Trump is but never mentions the immorality that drives it.

  8. If Trump truly “traffics in blatant misstatements in much the way other folk breathe”, then it isn’t really important WHY he does it. It represents a failure, not of Lawrence, but of his family, his staff, his cabinet, and the Congressional Republicans to take action and get him out of It’s dangerous to keep someone like this in office. At least the mainstream press are diligently pointing out and documenting Trump’s “misstatements”. And perhaps the Democrats can work on removing him. Trump is not Gore.

  9. Is Somerby recommending a 25th amendment solution? Because I haven’t heard Republicans or Fox News clamoring for one. I have heard it discussed on Lawrence, but I don’t believe the cabinet or the GOP or Fox jumped aboard that train. And the Congressional GOP/cabinet are the only ones who have been able to enact this.

  10. Every Orange County (CA) congressional district will be represented by Democrats in 2019.

    1. As California goes, so goes the rest of the country.

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