A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Don’t believe what you read, hear or see.
That’s what the Trump White House and the pro-Trump media are relying upon: Disbelief. Story after story calls to mind the old Marx Brothers line “Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” Richard Pryor later adapted the line and joked about gaslighting his wife when she caught him in bed with another woman: “Who you gonna believe? Me, or your lying eyes?” These days, it’s not just eyes…
Don’t believe your lying lungs
Oliver Darcy writes: At Wednesday’s press briefing, Kayleigh McEnany bizarrely continued the Trump camp’s assertions that “tear gas” was not used to clear protesters near the WH earlier this week — even though a gaseous agent that causes tears was used.
In an exchange with Jim Acosta, McEnany said, “So let me first address: No tear gas was used and no rubber bullets were used.” Acosta pushed back, “Chemical agents were used.” McEnany doubled down, “So, again, no tear gas was used.” Acosta asked McEnany why she was drawing a distinction between the use of pepper balls and tear gas canisters — since both have the same effect of causing burning and irritation of the eyes. “Well, no one was tear-gassed,” McEnany insisted. Except that viewers saw it happen. And reporters tasted it in their throats and felt it in their lungs. The AP published a fact-check on Wednesday that said “any difference is semantic.” So why is the WH arguing semantics? Perhaps to spread seeds of disbelief…
— WaPo’s Paul Farhi: “It represents a common Trump Team tactic of going on the offensive against a potentially damning news story by blurring a small debate over semantics into a wholesale attack on the integrity of the news media…”
— Yahoo WH correspondent Hunter Walker, who’s been in and around Lafayette Park for days, wrote, “Do not forget the people — and even news outlets — who tried to tell you the objective truth you watched live was a lie.”
Don’t believe your lying ears
Trump’s favorite TV shows largely ignored the incredible essay by his former Defense Secretary James Mattis, but Trump still caught wind of it, because he tweeted insults about Mattis shortly after 9pm ET. Trump said “his nickname was ‘Chaos’, which I didn’t like, & changed it to ‘Mad Dog,'” which is a bizarre thing to lie about, since the “Mad Dog” nickname was coined more than a decade ago, and Trump had nothing to do with it. Fox News anchor Shannon Bream omitted this lie when she summarized Trump’s anti-Mattis tweets in the 11pm hour…
Don’t believe your lying eyes
CNN’s Daniel Dale reports: “A synagogue posted Monday to debunk false rumors that its rock-filled anti-terror barrier had been put there by rioters. The AP, BuzzFeed also ran debunkings. Today the official White House account tweeted the conspiracy nonsense to 23 million followers.”
From Dale’s story: The tweet “featured a compilation of video clips from around the country in which people expressed suspicion of the presence of bricks or other objects on the streets” and stated that “Antifa and professional anarchists are invading our communities, staging bricks and weapons to instigate violence. These are acts of domestic terror.” But the rock enclosures in L.A. were there for a good reason, Dale writes: “They had been erected outside the Chabad of Sherman Oaks to protect the Jewish facility from potential attacks.” The WH later deleted the tweet without explanation or apology…
Don’t believe your lying brain
And don’t dare let your brain do any math. The headline on this Philip Bump piece for WaPo says it perfectly: “Polls show the election turning against Trump — so he says they’re invented.” They aren’t, of course. But Trump depends on disbelief.
The polling lie was uttered on Brian Kilmeade’s Fox News Radio show. Bump says “Kilmeade offered Trump the opportunity to do a spoken-word version of his various tweets. On subject after subject, Trump reiterated obviously untrue arguments and Kilmeade waited patiently to move on to the next subject…”
“A hallmark of authoritarian regimes…”
The new book “Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth” by WaPo fact-checkers Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, and Meg Kelly makes this point at the end:
“A hallmark of authoritarian regimes is to call truth into question — except as the regime defines it. Russian president Vladimir Putin offers up a fog of disinformation to maintain power, including denying obvious facts (such as Russian involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17), spouting falsehoods and deflecting attention with nonsensical comparisons (dubbed ‘whataboutism’).” Then the authors quote former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul: “A cumulative effect of all these tactics is nihilistic debasement of the very concept of truth.”
Sound familiar to you?