A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
If a tree lies in the forest, does it make a sound?
The answer is yes, at least when the tree is President Trump and he lies to a hungry crowd in Pennsylvania.
Trump was so long-winded at his Thursday evening rally that even Fox News cut away after 40+ minutes. He’s “probably pretty close to wrapping things up there,” Martha MacCallum said, seemingly justifying Fox’s choice to stop live coverage. But Trump kept talking for another 50 minutes, and numerous commenters on Twitter and Facebook lodged complaints about Fox cutting away.
The rally was still shown live on C-SPAN, One America News and numerous websites. But this is a marked change from 2016, when TV networks hung on every word. Now there’s a recognition that his commentary is usually repetitive, rhetorically extreme, and unglued from reality.
However: The lies still make a sound, I believe, because they are heard by Trump’s base and amplified across social media. So the fact-checks are still essential. As Aaron Rupar noted, Trump spent about 10 minutes [ranting] about coverage of his unplanned November 2019 Walter Reed trip…”
CNN never reported what Trump claimed
Trump blatantly lied about CNN during his spiel about Walter Reed. He said “on my way home, I get a call from my wife, the first lady. Who’s very popular. Do we like our first lady? [Cheers and applause] She’s very popular. A great person, great woman. She’s said ‘Darling, are you okay?’ I go, ‘Why do you ask?’ She said ‘They are reporting that you had a heart attack.’”
Trump went on: “And CNN reported that I had a heart attack. That was the same visit” – here, the crowd booed – “and that didn’t work – no, it’s unbelievable. CNN reported I had a heart attack. So my wife was concerned. I said, ‘No, not that I know of. And if I did, I think I’d be back there!” Meaning, back at Walter Reed.
Trump concluded this lie by saying these journalists “are very dangerous people. They are so bad for our country.” CNN never reported that Trump had a heart attack. Search CNN.com to see for yourself. So who’s the “dangerous” one here?
More news and nonsense from the rally
– Trump said Covid-19 “hospitalizations and deaths have declined radically over the past week,” which is not only not true, it also draws attention to the federal government’s failures to contain the virus…
– He also misstated the current death toll. “We’re at 175,000,” he said, when the CDC says total US deaths have surpassed 185,000…
– Reporters at the rally pointed out that common sense Covid precautions were not taken…
– NBC’s Lauren Egan tweeted: “Pennsylvania limits indoor events to 25 and outdoor events to 250 people. This event far exceeds 250 people. No attempt to practice social distancing. Very few masks…”
– Trump himself talked about the virulent, contagious nature of the virus, in front of his jam-packed crowd: “This is a tough one. I can look at that guy and he will catch it…”
Susan Glasser begins her newest column for The New Yorker by asking: “Does anything matter anymore in American politics?”
Well, I’ll defer to all of you for answers, but here’s some of the context for her question, starting with this tweet from WaPo reporter David Nakamura describing his Thursday night: “File story on Trump assault on election system. Make dinner. Check phone. Annnnnd….. Trump is attacking war dead.”
The “attack” was reported by The Atlantic EIC Jeffrey Goldberg. His article, citing multiple sources, was titled “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers.’”
The quotes are disturbing. The depths of alleged disrespect are appalling. And other outlets are already matching some of Goldberg’s reporting. The AP’s James LaPorta said “a senior Defense Department official with firsthand knowledge of events and a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was told about Trump’s comments confirmed some of the remarks to The Associated Press.”
Joe Biden has weighed in. So has Trump – he called it a “disgraceful situation” by a “terrible magazine.” Several Trump aides have flatly denied the report. Blake Hounshell of Politico said he has “never seen the Trump White House mobilize to deny a story faster and more vigorously than this Atlantic article.”
But the denials have to be taken in context – the administration has repeatedly denied things that turned out to be true. The White House forfeited its credibility a long long time ago…
Put up or shut up time
Glasser tweeted in response to The Atlantic article: “Where the hell were these sources when it happened? Did I miss the part where any of those who heard the President attack war heroes quit in protest, or went on the record to tell us about this now?”
Moments before hitting send on this newsletter, I commented on “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon” that it’s put up or shut up time – those who were in a position to know about conduct like this, who are able to speak, should do so on the record. I fully understand why sources insist on confidentiality. But those sources should think long and hard about attaching their names.
>> Max Boot tweeted just now: “This is devastating, disqualifying, and utterly credible. Since Trump is now denying what Jeffrey Goldberg has reported, his sources have a duty to go on the record and tell the voters first-hand what they saw and heard…”