THURSDAY, MAY 11, 2023
Mr. Gorbachev, build up that wall: Finally, it was finished.
Donald J. Trump had spent a bit more than an hour making a series of absurd misstatements and talking over Kaitlan Collins.
Now, a gaggle of CNN reporters and analysts began to discuss what they'd seen. Actually, two separate gaggles had been assembled. The two groups of observers spelled each other as the post-mortem proceeded.
It was time to discuss what Trump had said. The first group started like this:
TAPPER (5/10/23): And let's get right to it! With me here in studio, CNN's Audie Cornish, Abby Phillip, Dana Bash, John King, Laura Coates, and Jamie Gangel.
Let me start with you, Dana. We don't have enough time to fact-check every lie he told. But he started off, with the election one. And, boy, he really just never let that bone go!
BASH: And it's pretty clear, the evidence is now out there, that he is going to continue to tell that lie, not just to the audience, where he has an echo chamber, conservative media, but unbiased, straight down, the middle media. The people he's trying to get, beyond his base, now saw and heard that this is something that he will not let go of, the 2020 election lies.
They started in our tribe's standard way. In our own viewing chamber, several analysts emitted this sarcastic cry:
Mr. Gorbachev, build up that wall!
Was Donald J. Trump telling "lies" last night? It's certainly a possibility! That said, it all depends on how crazy, or on how impaired, the former president is.
Might he believe the things he says? Within the past year, we've seen anti-Trump analysts from George Conway on down saying that yes, it is possible. And if Trump believes his crazy statements, then his flagrant misstatements are crazy, but his flagrant misstatements aren't lies.
We don't know how crazy Donald Trump is. We don't know what he believes.
We do know this:
For decades, it was standard journalistic practice to stay away from the ascription of "lies." Journalists understood a specific type of limitation:
It's relatively easy to know if a statement is false. It's much harder, perhaps impossible, to know if some statement's a lie.
There is, of course, a second problem with the instant ascription of lying. The word is a well-known discussion stopper—a type of "fighting word."
If you say that someone is lying, a whole lot of people will quickly stop listening. And the truth is, Tapper and Bash have no way of knowing which of Trump's absurdly inaccurate statements qualify as "lies."
At some point during this Trump era, our blue team journalists developed a bad idea. They decided that they could show how fearless they are if they began to say "lies."
Their predecessors had refused to go there. With silly bravado, they decided that they would.
Today, our journalists love to show their courage by leading with the word "lies." Here are the headlines which currently sit atop reviews of last night's town hall disaster:
At the Washington Post:
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins tried, and tried, to rebut Trump’s election lies
At The Atlantic:
In an unhinged town hall, Donald Trump repeated familiar lies and tested new talking points.
We agree that the evening was unhinged. That said, the term "flagrant misstatements" packs a much greater punch than the more childish term "lies."
(Try it! CNN’s Kaitlan Collins tried, and tried, to rebut Trump’s flagrant misstatements.)
We'd also say that Collins erred to some extent in one approach last night. When Trump would say the last election was rigged, she would say, "No, it wasn't."
TRUMP: A lot of the people—a lot of those people in this audience, and maybe a couple that don't, but most people understand what happened. That was a rigged election, and it is a shame that we had to go through it.
It's very bad for our country, all over the world, they looked at it and they saw exactly what everyone else. You look—even if you just look recently with the 51 intelligence agents, that made a 16-point difference. If you look at the FBI—
COLLINS: Mr. President—
TRUMP: If you look at the FBI and Twitter, they call it Twitter Files, it made a big difference. If you look at True the Vote—
COLLINS: Mr. President, back what you just said there, though. It was not a rigged election. It was not a stolen election. You and your supporters lost more than 60 court cases on the election.
It's been nearly two and a half years. Can you publicly acknowledge that you did lose the 2020 election?
TRUMP: Let me just go on...
"Let me just go on," the disordered man said. And, at that point, he did!
Trump kept saying the election was stolen; Collins kept saying it wasn't. As big fans of Kaitlan Collins, we'd love to see a hypothetical Collins come out with the question not asked:
HYPOTHETICAL COLLINS: Mr. President, you've been making this very serious charge for well over two years. And yet, you've never produced any sort of "white paper" in which you attempt to lay out some sort of factual basis for your deeply serious charge.
When you make that deeply serious claim, people in this audience believe you. Why have you never been willing to lay out your evidence, if you have any, in such a way that all our journalists, and all our citizens, can evaluate your very serious claim?
Is it possible that you don't have any evidence? Don't you owe it to these people in this audience to offer some sort of evidence for your deeply serious charge?
Tapper and Bash display performative courage by bravely saying "lie." At that point, large numbers of people stop listening. Meanwhile, has Donald J. Trump ever asked why he won't put up or shut up?
We offer our standard last point:
Donald J. Trump seems to be deeply disordered. On this morning's Morning Joe, Tom Nichols actually referred to him as "a disordered sociopath."
That's the horse we've been riding on over the past many years! That said, brave journalists like Tapper and Bash refuse to discuss such obvious possibilities with qualified medical specialists. Instead, they convince blue tribe viewers that they're being brave when they drop their L-bombs.
The gentleman seems to be badly disordered. None of our heroes will say so.
This is all they're willing to do. Aside from its entertainment value, it doesn't seem like it's enough.