A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Ten different stories could be the lead item right now. But I’d like to highlight this one — from the NYT — “Shoot Them in the Legs, Trump Suggested: Inside His Border War.” The story by Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis says President Trump talked about shooting migrants in the legs in order to slow them down after they crossed the southern border. He was told that’s not allowed… And he raged at his aides for making him “look like an idiot,” a/k/a, weak on immigration.
There’s more: “Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh.”
This reporting comes from Davis and Shear’s book “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration,” which hits bookshelves next week. And it is a reflection of the fact that there’s still so much we do not know about Trump’s behavior… his treatment of aides… his illegal and immoral ideas like shooting migrants… etc.
Nearly three years into the Trump presidency, though, there are so many “formers” — like Kirstjen Nielsen and John Bolton — who are free to tell the truth about Trumpworld. There are more and more leaks, especially in the wake of the Ukraine scandal and the formal impeachment inquiry. And there are newsworthy examples of government employees standing up to Trump’s pressure. Wednesday’s lead story is likely to be the State Department Inspector General’s “urgent” Ukraine-related briefing on Capitol Hill…
>> Paul LeBlanc’s very helpful recap on CNN.com: “Here’s what happened in another wild day of the Trump-Ukraine scandal”
Circle complete: Trump repeats right-wing media’s “coup” claim
Oliver Darcy emails: Trump completed the feedback loop on Tuesday night, repeating right-wing media’s outlandish claim that he might be the victim of a “coup.” As I wrote on Monday, the idea the impeachment inquiry is a “coup d’état” has blanketed the pro-Trump media universe. From Tucker Carlson to Mark Levin to Breitbart to Rush Limbaugh to The Gateway Pundit to “Fox & Friends,” it has been everywhere in recent days. Now that Trump has repeated the claim, of course, look for these very same outlets to repeat his tweet.Round and round we go…
>> AND: Responsible news outlets should note that the claim is ridiculous. A coup d’état implies an ILLEGAL, maybe even violent, overthrow of the government. Impeachment is the LEGAL, Constitutional process laid out by the founders for removing a president…
Trump, key members of his political party and stars of his favored media outlets are spreading a shocking amount of disinformation. They aren’t just “spinning” or fudging facts — they are making stuff up, smearing the Ukraine whistleblower, and refusing to fess up when they’re proven wrong. All throughout the worlds of media and politics, I see people grasping for solutions, pressuring others to “do something” about this problem:
– The DNC slamming Facebook for letting Trump “mislead” Americans “unimpeded”
– The Biden campaign calling on TV networks to stop booking Rudy Giuliani
– Kamala Harris saying Twitter should suspend Trump’s account
– Kara Swisher, in her newest NYT column, saying “Trump is too dangerous for Twitter”
There’s a constant refrain from viewers not to interview Trump aides, because the guests spread B.S. and sow confusion. And there are ongoing conversations in newsrooms about how to cover Trump’s frequently-false, borderline-dangerous tweets. He keeps talking about Adam Schiff and “treason,” implying he wants his political opponent arrested, and it’s not even the lead story on the nightly news.
ALL of this is related — serial lying is polluting the discourse, and people are right to be worried about it, right to seek solutions — and yet all the proposals are unacceptable “censorship” in the minds of many Trump supporters and some of his detractors.
What the DNC wants
Donie O’Sullivan writes: Former UK deputy PM Nick Clegg, now a Facebook VP in charge of comms, said in a speech last week, “It is not our role to intervene when politicians speak.” But not so, says the Democratic National Committee.
DNC CEO Seema Nanda told me: “We know that Trump has an utter disregard for the truth, and this decision effectively allows him to continue to mislead the American people on their platform unimpeded — and sets a dangerous precedent for others to follow suit.” Nanda said FB should fact-check ads and posts run by politicians — including and especially Trump…
Too much power?
Donie O’Sullivan adds: I think a bigger conversation needs to be had about trade-offs here. False information online is bad, it can increase polarization, have a toxic impact on political discourse, and it can and has resulted in violence (think Myanmar). But is FB fact-checking and potentially blocking posts from politicians, even the president, the best solution? And if Twitter were to suspend POTUS, as Harris suggests, wouldn’t that only embolden Silicon Valley’s critics (on both sides of the aisle) in their belief that these companies are too powerful and have undue influence on public discourse?
At the same time, there is a problem. Does anyone have a solution?
Another nonsensical claim about CNN
Most people, I think it’s fair to say, feel some shame when they lie. Fact-checks and rivals’ rebukes have been known to bring loose-lipped politicians back to reality. But as many fact-checkers have noted, Pinocchios don’t seem to have an effect on Trump.
Here’s a new example via CNN’s Daniel Dale. Bloomberg published the text of Trump’s remarks last week to US diplomats and invited guests in NYC. In his remarks, Trump claimed the media buried the news of GOP candidate Dan Bishop’s special election victory last month: “In fact, the whole night, CNN, who had built the most beautiful, $2 million maybe they spent — no wonder they’re losing their ass. They have no ratings and they’re building studios all over the place but they had a studio, the studio was going to stay up for weeks and toward the end of the night they were taking it down. Their so-called stars were leaving. They had stars. There’s not many stars, I’ll tell you, less than 10. But they were taking—the stars were leaving. And, uh, they didn’t want to report it. But the candidate, Dan Bishop, won—by a lot.”
Bishop only won by 2 points, but here’s the bigger point: CNN never built a studio for NC-9 coverage. None of the other networks did either. The claim is nonsensical. And yet he went into great detail about something that never happened.
Two different universes of info, and only one is factual
Kate Bolduan on CNN Tuesday evening: “Tonight, a new poll showing only 40% of Republicans believe President Trump talked to the Ukrainian president about investigating Joe Biden.” The problem is that “this is something the president himself has already admitted.”
This is from Monmouth’s new poll, which asked, “Do you think Donald Trump probably did or probably did not mention the possibility of an investigation into the Biden family during his conversation with the Ukrainian president?” Among Republicans, 29% said “probably did not” and 31% said they don’t know. More poll results here…
FOR THE RECORD
– Geraldo Rivera on Sean Hannity’s show Tuesday night: “You know, if it wasn’t your show, Sean, they would destroy him absolutely. You are the difference between Donald J. Trump and Richard Nixon…” (Media Matters)
– “As impeachment moves forward, Trump’s language turns darker,” Katie Rogers observes… (NYT)
– Michelle Cottle says GOP leaders “haven’t come up with a coherent defense” of Trump’s conduct vis a vis Ukraine. “Maybe because there isn’t one?” (NYT)
– Let me second what CNN’s Abby Phillip said: “Imagine if the WH had to answer questions at a briefing every day about Ukraine given how quickly new developments are happening…” (Twitter)