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.At some point, the transcript will allegedly show up here.
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.
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.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.
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?
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 was Donald Trump lying about? Eventually, we got some examples. According to Dale, one such lie was this:
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.
"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."Lies" reinforces tribal war. "Blatant misstatements" is just as potent, easier by far to defend.
Donald Trump keeps making blatant misstatements.