Defending Trump's Falsehoods...on Principle?
Bernie Goldberg wrote a column the other day, in which he described how some people in the news profession are torn on whether or not they should report President-elect Trump's numerous spoken untruths as "lies."
The point of contention is that because a false statement requires a willful intent to deceive, in order to be considered a lie, it may not be fair or appropriate for a journalist to make such a determination. After all, no one can know, with absolute certainty, what is going on inside the head of someone who's saying something that isn't true.
Bernie pointed out that the mainstream media haven't felt nearly as conflicted over the years in their coverage of prominent Democrats like President Obama and Hillary Clinton, who've always been given the benefit of the doubt on their untrue remarks.
For example, journalists outside of the conservative media never framed Obama's erroneous ACA assurances as "lies," and Clinton managed to escape the 'L' word even after offering a dozen conflicting stories in regard to her private email server. In those cases, the press reported on the inaccuracies (often begrudgingly), but chose not to examine the likely intentions behind them. Only with Trump has the motive been a consideration.
Bernie's proposed solution to this journalistic dilemma was that journalists should simply apply "the same standard to people they like as to people they don’t like." It seemed like a very reasonable and distinctly fair idea. Yet, a lot of the Trump supporters, who reacted to the piece, decided that Bernie's thesis was a disgraceful attack on the president-elect.
Entirely missing the point of a journalistic consistency, many declared on social media that they would no longer follow Bernie, read his columns, or watch his television appearances. In fact, some even called on Bill O'Reilly to dump this website's purveyor from The Factor.
What was their beef? They took offense to Bernie's matter-of-fact labeling of Trump's most famous untruths as being...well, untrue. Forget the "lying" component for a moment, which Bernie was actually advocating against. They made it loud and clear that they don't even accept the premise that those Trump statements were inaccurate. And because Bernie said otherwise, they believe that he is the dishonest one.
Now, it's no secret (and nothing new) that Trump loyalists are inclined to try and substantiate even Trump's most outrageous claims (often at great personal embarrassment). They do so because of their unrelenting belief that their guy is a "truth teller." I've seen those efforts play out almost daily in this website's comment sections (and on Twitter and Facebook) for the past 18 months. To the loyalists, Trump's word is as golden as his tower penthouse...facts be damned.
What's surprising is that the sentiment hasn't dissipated since the election. It's actually grown, with more and more people on the Right (perhaps fueled by the Left's denial of the election results) hunkering down in their partisan bunkers and lending credence to whatever old or new Trump falsities happen to pop up for discussion.
Leon Wolf, Managing Editor of The Blaze, addressed the situation on Twitter the other day: "Surprise: A lot of people who said 'Trump sucks but he's better than Hillary and we will hold him accountable after he wins' were lying."
He has a legitimate point.
In fact, as I was writing this column, I checked back on Bernie's piece, and noticed the below comment left by an individual posting as "JRR," regarding two of the Trump claims in question: that he watched thousands of Muslims celebrated 9/11 in New Jersey, and that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton: "Bernie, you are losing it! You are letting your prejudices get in the way of your judgement! Both your examples have been proven in principle, although the numbers claimed were clearly hyperbole..."
Proven in principle, eh? To many on the Right, in the era of Trump, this has become the new threshold (and justification) for categorizing fiction as truth. Does something have to be factual in order to be true? Not any more. Not as long as there's a larger principle at play.
It's this freshly acquired philosophy that has led an astonishing number of righties to deem Trump's 9/11 claim to be truthful...despite it not being true.
Are there Muslims in America that may have celebrated the 9/11 attacks? Probably. It's true that there was a single local news report from New Jersey (that emerged years later) on six alleged Muslims who witnesses described as celebrating on a rooftop. Were there thousands, as Trump had stated. No, not even close. Was this "celebration" captured on video, as Trump had stated? No.
Trump, in fact, did not see what he claimed to have seen. Yet, he has stuck to that story, and has adamantly rejected every opportunity to say that he was mistaken, or had perhaps conflated a video from the Middle East with the local New Jersey story.
But in principle, according to Trump fans, it really doesn't matter. Because there are indeed Muslims in America who have negative views of our country (some of whom may have even viewed 9/11 as a good thing), Trump's fictitious claim has been proven true.
The same goes for Trump's statement that "millions" of people illegally voted for Hillary Clinton in the election. Is there proof of this? No. Does vote fraud exist? Yes. Did some people in this country manage to vote illegally, and were there some among them that were Clinton supporters? Almost certainly. So on principle, in the eyes of many of his supporters, Trump is right.
By that logic, then, if I were to claim to be a millionaire, based on the fact that millionaires exist and no one knows how much money I have buried in my backyard, I would be telling the truth. After all, it has been proven in principle that a guy with my background and education can become a millionaire. Why should a little hyperbole negate my claim, right? Wrong.
What's particularly disheartening about the Right's embrace of this reasoning, is that it is exactly what we have long excoriated the Left for using. It drives us absolutely nuts when liberals put forth fabricated numbers or events, or twist the details of real events in order to mold a convenient political narrative.
Whenever progressives push gun-control legislation, they cite the number of Americans that are killed by guns every year. They don't care so much about the circumstances of those deaths, or how many of those people could have conceivably been helped by the proposed legislation (in many cases, none). Such realities would blunt their efforts. But because there are indeed people in this country who are tragically killed with guns, principle justifies their actions.
Do we on the Right write their disingenuous rhetoric off as harmless hyperbole? No, nor should we.
Remember the Duke lacrosse case? The Right was outraged over the Left's eagerness to convict rich, white, male college students of the rape of a poor black girl. For progressive social-justice warriors, the accuser's story (ultimately proven to be false) would have been an enormous victory, and a vindication of all of their politically-correct beliefs about white-privilege and inherent racism in America.
When the case fell apart, however, there were still a number of liberals who clung to the idea that because there have been legitimate instances of rich white men raping poor black girls in this country, the plight, the message, and the victimization were all real.
Did we on the Right let them off the hook because they were proven right in principle? Of course not, nor should we have.
One of many things that made the 2016 election-cycle difficult to swallow was watching the Right finally adopt the very worst of the Left's tactics and sensibilities. Too many of us mirrored liberal intolerance of dissenting views. Too many of us not only shrugged our shoulders at the falsehoods and demagoguery on our side of the aisle, but willfully rationalized it, normalized it, and in some cases even lied to protect it.
Some would say that politically, it was worth it. The Democrats were handed an epic loss, and received a bitter taste of their own medicine. But since we're still playing this game, two months after the election, it's clear that the victory came at a needless but devastating cost -- the surrender of precisely what some have been wrongly eliciting to justify their conduct: principles.
I'm not sure how we can rebound from this.