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Lies, Lies, Lies, and Fact-Checking
They never learn
Much like CNN’s disastrous “town hall” in May of this year, the Meet the Press “interview” moderated by Kristin Welker, never should have happened. Both were train wrecks that most of us could see coming from several light-years away.
It appears both CNN and NBC approached Donald with the idea, which suggests the networks were in the weaker negotiating position from the beginning giving Donald most of the leverage. From CNN he got the moderator, the format, and the audience he wanted. Based on Sunday’s travesty, NBC followed gave him much of what he wanted as well.
To kick the interview off, Welker refers to Donald as “Mr. President” twice (we don’t yet know if this obsequiousness was voluntary or one of the concessions NBC made to him). She then asks him why he’s running for president again.
“Well, it’s a very simple answer, and I can give it very easily. It’s called: “Make America Great Again.” [This is a meaningless statement. Also, if he already made America great again during the four years of his terms, why did that greatness evaporate as soon as he left DC with all of those stolen documents?]
“Our country is in serious trouble. I don’t think we’ve ever been so low in terms of, certainly opinion, world opinion and country opinion.” [This is Lie #1, a demonstrably false statement that Welker’s off-camera team could easily have verified with a simple graphic. Welker might even have presented it to Donald in real time as soon as he finished his opening statement. Even if they chose not to, this interview was pre-recorded. There is literally no reason the audience watching when the interview aired weren’t apprised of this information.]
Donald continues: “People are devastated. They look at what’s happening with millions of people coming in, millions of illegal immigrants coming into our country, flooding our cities, flooding the countryside. I think the number is going to be 15 million people by the time you end this — by the end of this year, I think the real number’s going to be 15 million people.” [Lie #2. The real number is closer to 2 million.]
“They come from prisons. They come from mental institutions, insane asylums.” [Lie #3 and the dangerousness of this kind of rhetoric needed to be roundly and immediately rejected.]
“They say, ‘Sir, please don’t use that term,’ but it’s true.” [Oh, great, a sir story.]
“They’re terrorists at a level — you know, it was very interesting, on NBC, I saw a poll, and I saw some statistics, and it said in 2019, there were no terrorists. They caught no terrorists. There was nothing that they saw. There was no anything. And now, this year, it’s a record number like they’ve never seen before.” [Lie #4. The numbers were higher in 2019 than in 2022 and 2023.]
“So, we did a great job at the border. We did a great job with the military. We did a great job with inflation. We had essentially no inflation.” [It’s hard to call these statements lies because they’re so vague—more unfounded self-congratulatory opinion than fact, but there should have been vigorous pushback on any one of them.]
“We had a great economy.” [Lie #5. While true during the first part of his administration because of the strong economy he inherited from Obama, our economy was in free-fall in 2020 largely because of Donald’s disastrous COVID policy.] And, we didn’t have an Afghanistan disaster. We were getting out, but we were going to get out with dignity and pride, not the way they got out.” [Lie #5. The debacle that was the withdrawal from Afghanistan was rooted, in part, in the deal Donald made with the Taliban in early 2020. Plus, remember when he was going to host Taliban leaders at Camp David three days before September 11th in 2019?]
“That was a surrender, and an embarrassment, and horrible. We gave $85 billion worth of equipment to the Taliban.” [Lie #6. This is approximately the amount the United States spent in Afghanistan over the course of two decades.]
“We had death, so much death, and so much horrible destruction. And it was a terrible thing. I think it was the lowest point in the history of our country.” [Not a lie, his opinion. But the lowest point compared to what? The genocide of native Americans; the four centuries during which millions of Africans and the eight generations that followed were enslaved; the Civil War in which 750,000 died; a hundred years of Jim Crow; the Vietnam war; September 11th and the Iraq war; the 2016 election; an out-of-control pandemic that has killed over a million Americans? Welker would have been well within her rights to point out that Donald’s opinion is deeply ignorant and stupid.]
“Now, with all of that, we can change it, and we can make America great again. And that’s why I’m doing this.” [Again, this is not an answer, this is an empty platitude.]
None of that was challenged in real time. Although after all of this Welker acknowledges that there’s a lot there that she’d like to get to later in the interview, the first thing she feels compelled to do is discuss some breaking news so she pivots to—Hunter Biden.
This was journalistic malpractice. The consensus in the legal community seems to be that the indictments of Hunter Biden almost certainly would never have been brought if he had a different surname. By bringing up Hunter Biden, Welker played right into Donald’s hands and she creates a false equivalence between Biden’s charges and the four indictments and 91 counts Donald is facing. Hunter Biden is a private citizen who fucked up due to a combination of addiction and nepotism; Donald, while leader of the free world, stole classified documents, incited an insurrection against his own government, and tried to steal the 2020 presidential election.
I will spare you the rest of the interview—it’s brutal and it actually gets worse. But it never should have happened because there should have been no moving on from the first lie, even if it was not, among all of them, the most serious or consequential lie.
Plenty of people have pointed out that Donald needs to be stopped at the first lie. Journalistic integrity demands it. But the current bunch of corporate media personalities we’re stuck with do not seem to be up to the task. They are not capable of the kind of pushback required to hold Donald’s feet to the fire because they have no interest in journalistic integrity.
What they don’t seem to understand, though, is that refusing to move on from Donald’s first lie would get them all the ratings and views and link clicks they could possibly desire. If he were thwarted, if somebody had the temerity to try to pin him down and force him to acknowledge the lie, or, in the face of incontrovertible evidence, continue lying, he would have the kind of epic temper tantrum we know he’s capable of but that nobody has ever dared provoke in a context that matters—like an interview on live national television, for instance.
And then there’s this: The American people have every right to see how the de facto leader of the Republican party and soon-to-be Republican nominee for the presidency reacts when his lies are called out and he is prevented from either doubling-down on them unchallenged or moving on from them unimpeded.
The only tactic Donald has left is to flood the zone with disinformation; the only way to stop him is to refuse to allow it. Otherwise, the unchallenged lies sink in, adding to the sense that all transgressions—against truth, decency, American democracy, are already “baked in,” and that sussing out the truth, or holding him accountable in any way, is just so much noise.
The salt in the wound came in the aftermath of the CNN town hall and the NBC interview when the hosts, and their networks, took victory laps despite overwhelming evidence that both of them were unmitigated disasters.
Chris Licht, then chairman and CEO of CNN who lost his job very shortly after the townhall, defended his almost universally derided decision to host Donald in this way:
"You do not have to like the former president's answers, but you can't say that we didn't get them. . . . Kaitlan [Collins] pressed him again and again and made news. Made a LOT of news. . . that is our job."
No, it is not. (Does it need to be said to somebody who has spent his entire professional career in the news business that the point of journalism is not for journalists to make news? Apparently, it does but, in any case, Chris Licht is not listening.)
Licht was right, though. CNN did make news. And so did NBC. Just not in a way that advanced the cause of serious journalism (which, by the way, has been under threat ever since Donald started attacking the “fake news”).
Kaitlan Collins’ post-townhall comments were equally alarming. “About last night,” she wrote, “the 70 minutes I spent on stage in New Hampshire with Donald Trump was [sic] a major inflection point in the Republican party's search for its nominee and potentially the starting line for America’s next presidential race.” Thank god Kaitlin had the guts to kick it all off for us otherwise the next election would probably never happen! (s/)
Andrea Mitchell, in her chat with Kristin Welker before the interview with Donald aired, referred to it as an “extraordinary interview.” She marveled at how “very defiant, very aggressive” Donald was. He’s “[f]ired up about a lot of these issues,” Welker claimed. He’s “leaning into his deal-making status” which, if you’ve been paying attention over the few decades, is a thing that no longer exists.
“Fired up,” “deal maker,” “defiant” are not the words that should be used to describe Donald. Maybe, as a public service, Welker could have started with an accurate description that included mention not just of the four criminal indictments but the reasons for them. Donald Trump stole, and admitted to stealing, some of our nation’s most sensitive classified documents; he incited an insurrection against his own government; he continues to threaten our democracy by disseminating the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Maybe some of the crimes for which he has not yet been indicted should also be mentioned like, for example, the fact that he is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans through his malicious failure to deal appropriately with the COVID pandemic. Too much for a sound bite, I guess.
And, sadly, there will always be another Kaitlin Collins or Kristin Welker (or Chris Licht, for that matter) waiting in the wings to step into the spotlight, clutching onto the deluded belief that they can do better.
You can’t fact check Donald’s misogyny or racism or anti-LGBTQ+ hatred. But you can call it out. By normalizing his candidacy, you reinforce the notion that everything awful about him—every treasonous act, every cruelty, every lie, every instance of cognitive decline and stupidity is already baked in, and therefore unworthy of further comment or exploration. But that kind of pushback takes guts and sophistication.
Fact-checking lies, especially with our nearly instantaneous ability to do so—that’s easy, as well as being objective and necessary. But NBC chose to fact-check the interview after it had already happened in an article posted online thereby virtually guaranteeing that a fraction of the people who watched the interview would know about Donald’s unchecked lies. Well done, NBC.
Not surprisingly, once Donald got away with his first spate of lies, things got much worse. When Welker asked him about the Dobbs decision and abortion rights, he said, “The radical people on this are really the Democrats that say, after five months, six months, seven months, eight months, nine months, and even after birth you’re allowed to terminate the baby—”
Welker responded, “Democrats aren’t saying that. I just have to—Democrats are not saying that.”
“You have a Virginia governor, previous governor,” Donald was allowed to add, “who said, ‘After the baby is born, you will make a determination, and if you want, you will kill that baby.’ The baby is now born.”
Welker, clearly out of her depth, says, “Democrats writ large [emphasis added] are not talking about that” which is an even weaker response and the beginnings of a concession.
If you allow such a comment about abortion to be given essentially unchallenged, especially by the man currently applying for the most powerful job on the planet, you’ve not just lost the thread or the game or the battle. You’ve completely surrendered.
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