Bernstein: Trump uses lies to push policies

Carl Bernstein discusses President Trump's "war on truth" with CNN's Brian Stelter, saying the US has never had a President who has used lying as a way to promote his policies and views.

Posted: Oct 22, 2018 2:56 PM
Updated: Oct 22, 2018 3:13 PM

A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Mr. Misinformation

I'd like to kick off this newsletter with some good news. But the overwhelming story right now, IMHO, is President Trump's profound dishonesty, on display all weekend long at rallies and on Twitter.

"In one speech" on Saturday, Daniel Dale says, "the president invented nonexistent riots in California and a nonexistent Democratic policy of giving luxury cars to unauthorized immigrants. Afterward, he touted a nonexistent plan to pass a major tax cut in the next 10 days."

Dale, who fact-checks every word that Trump says, is an indispensable resource right now. He caught Trump's claim that "we are looking at putting in a very major tax cut for middle-income people. And if we do that it'll be sometime just prior to November." A new middle class tax cut?! Congress is not even in session.

For this reason, and a thousand others, I labeled the president "Mr. Misinformation" on Sunday's "Reliable Sources." The segment was all about the plague of smears, scams and lies that still exists on Facebook and Twitter, two years after the "fake news" virus was first diagnosed. The companies are trying to address these problems — but it amounts to an overwhelming game of whack a mole. Here's what Donie O'Sullivan and Philip Bump told me on the show...

Bernstein: "This is a new territory of untruth"

"Look, we have had presidents in the past who have lied. There's no question about that," Carl Bernstein told me. "But what we have never had is a president of the United States who uses lying and untruth as a basic method to promote his policies, his beliefs, and his way of approaching the American people and engaging with the world."

Bernstein's point: Trump's "default position is to use untruth to go toward his objectives."

My question: Are journalists doing enough to document and debunk Trump's dishonest tactics?

Four new examples to examine

-- Much of Trump's talk about the migrant caravan has a conspiratorial edge. A new example: "Democrats want caravans. They like the caravans. A lot of people say, 'I wonder who started that caravan...'"

-- On Friday night, NYT reporter Emily Cochrane asked Trump about evidence for his claims that the "caravan" is full of "hardened criminals." His reply? "Oh please, please, don't be a baby..."

-- Trump tweeted on Saturday night that "all levels of government and law enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD," even though cases of voter fraud are vanishingly rare. "Cheat at your own peril," he said, even though his own voter fraud commission was dissolved in January...

-- WaPo's Glenn Kessler tweeted on Sunday: Trump "tells audiences the opioid bill passed 'very little Democrat support.' The vote was 98 to 1, with only Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R) opposing it. The House passed it 393 to 8. Even a rare bipartisan achievement can't be celebrated?"

"Hidden Tribes"

Partisan TV shows and talk radio and social media feeds are popular... but they are poisonous. In this interview for Sunday's show, More in Common co-founder Tim Dixon told me that most Americans are NOT locked in the cold civil war that's taking place on cable newscasts and talk radio shows. Instead,67% of Americans are part of what he calls the "exhausted majority." So what should the media do to represent those voices? Here's what Dixon said...

-- BTW: Dixon's points relate to what Ben Sasse said on "SOTU" Sunday morning...

Read more of Sunday's Reliable Sources newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...

Bruni on "Trump's Perverse Advantage"

Brian Lowry emails: The second half of "Reliable Sources" — specifically, the Bernstein and Tim Dixon interviews — dovetailed pretty nicely with Frank Bruni's latest NYT column, which asked members of the media to provide more context and substance and resist the temptation to cover the "saucier" sideshows of the Trump presidency. It's an appealing thought, but given the nature of the current news cycle, perhaps a naïve one...

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