December 4, 2016

CNN's Reliable Sources' host Brian Stelter had an open message for journalists still struggling with how to cover a president who feels no compunction to be honest, or factual, or anything less than unhinged.

Let's tell some truths about lying, because the way Donald Trump lies has people rethinking some of the basic premises of journalism, like the assumption that everything a president says is automatically news.

When President-elect Trump lies so casually, so cynically, the news isn't so much the false thing he said. It's that he felt like he could just go ahead and say it, go ahead and lie to you. That's the story.

Why does he bend and flex and twist and warp and distort the truth?

Personally, I'm curious, because I think Trump does it differently than past presidents. His lies are different and deserve scrutiny. I mean, look, for as long as people have been talking, people have been lying, right?


But, normally, when presidents fib, it's hard to prove the fib at the time. And, later, when the truth does come out, as it always does, presidents pay a price.

Certainly, President Obama paid a price for saying, if you like your health care plan, you can keep it. PolitiFact called that the lie of the year back in 2013.

Will President Trump pay a price for lying too? Or is something broken? Will voters just shrug it off?

Let me show you an example, something small, but revealing from Trump's rally on Thursday.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We won in a landslide. That was a landslide.


TRUMP: And we didn't have the press. The press was brutal.


STELTER: Landslide is obviously untrue. It's not possible to lose the popular vote by 2.5 million and win in a landslide.

This was rightly fact-checked all over the place, just like many of Trump's campaign exaggerations. Of the statements checked by PolitiFact during the campaign, 70 percent were rated mostly false, false, or Pants on Fire.

This is how Trump deceives people differently than past presidents have. Court cases involving Trump have shown that he lies even when the truth is really easy to discern. And that's what we're seeing all again now.

That's why I think fact-checking is important, but the framing of these stories is even more important.

Take Trump's promotion of this voter fraud conspiracy idea. And he said on Twitter: "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."

The journalistic impulse was to say something like, "Trump claims he won the popular vote."

I would suggest to you the better framing is, "Trump lies again, embracing a far-right wing conspiracy theory."

See, focusing on the falsehood creates more confusion and gives the lie even more life. And that's the wrong way to go. Focusing on Trump's tendency to buy into B.S. gets to what's really going on here.

This calls for more reporting and for reporters to show our work, to show that we actually know the truth.

And that's why it was probably good that, on Monday, many reporters asked on this conference call with Trump aides, where did Trump get this idea? His transition team cited studies that didn't actually back up his claim.

The idea that millions of people voted illegally in November had roots in a tweet from a Republican in Texas who hasn't provided proof. Then the pro-Trump conspiracy Web site Infowars picked up on it. You can see the headline here. And then it spread all across the Web from there.

That's the best sense of how this came about. Maybe it's wishful thinking that millions of illegal people voted, but it's just not untrue; it's unhinged.

According to "The Washington Post," there's been just four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election [ed. note: all four were people who fraudulently voted for Trump]. Maybe there's more, but there should be evidence. There should be proof.

When the president says something, however, when the president says something, a lie is given much more power, which means the press has to have the power to respond.

Here's hoping the press starts exerting that power and stop ceding the dialog to a lying conspiracy nut.

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