The Media Today

‘Truth isn’t truth,’ says Giuliani, continuing Trump’s war on facts

August 20, 2018

First, there were “alternative facts.” Then, the president told his supporters, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” On Sunday, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani took the administration’s Orwellian messaging to its logical conclusion, telling Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, “Truth isn’t truth.”

Trump’s antipathy toward the truth is well catalogued, with The Washington Post’s Fact Checker finding that the president made more than 4,000 false or misleading claims during his first 18 months in office. His aides and spokespeople regularly put forth contradictory explanations or simply refuse to answer questions about the administration’s actions. But rarely has the administration’s approach to the truth been so blatantly addressed.

Giuliani made the comment in response to Todd’s questions about whether or not Trump would agree to an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. The president’s lawyer argued that even if Trump were to give his side of the story, it would be impossible to determine what actually happened in any given instance because “truth” means different things to different people. “‘Truth isn’t truth’ is going to go down as this White House’s legal strategy,” PBS Newshour’s Yamiche Alcindor said on Todd’s panel following the Giuliani interview. “Truth isn’t truth” is ridiculous as an isolated statement, but as a guiding philosophy, it strikes at something that diehard Trump supporters in the media and the public already tacitly accept.

RELATED: The White House credibility crisis starts at the top

On Saturday, Trump’s approach to the truth was the topic of a rare joint interview on CNN with The New York Times’s Dean Baquet and The Washington Post’s Martin Baron. David Axelrod asked the two editors about Trump’s comments to CBS’s Lesley Stahl shortly after the 2016 election in which he explained that he attacks the media as part of an attempt to “discredit” what is reported. Baron thought Trump was being incredibly honest in that statement. “He wants to disqualify the press as an independent arbiter of fact,” Baron said (around 19 minutes in, for those who want to listen). “He does not want there to be an independent arbiter of fact. He certainly doesn’t want the press to be that arbiter, he doesn’t want scientists to be that arbiter, he doesn’t want the courts to be that arbiter, he doesn’t want the intelligence agencies to be the arbiter—he wants himself, and his White House, to be the arbiter of fact.”

Baquet added that the administration’s “alternative facts” are “part of an organized effort to undermine the institutions that have a role in not only trying to understand the facts but also in questioning power.”

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The organized campaign Baquet referenced is at the heart of the danger Trump poses to the media. Individual attacks on the Times, the Post, and other outlets aren’t, in themselves, that big a deal. But the continuous undermining of the idea that reporters are doing their best to inform the public, that people shouldn’t believe in the concept of verifiable truth, is a tactic that will resonate long after Trump has left the White House.

Below, more on the fallout from Giuliani’s new slogan.

  • Part of Rudy’s strategy: Politico’s Rebecca Morin and David Cohen note that Sunday’s comment wasn’t out of character for Giuliani. They called back to an interview the president’s lawyer gave to CNN’s Chris Cuomo last week, in which he rejected Cuomo’s statement that “facts are not in the eye of the beholder.” “Yes, they are,” Giuliani responded. “Nowadays they are.
  • More on Trump’s lawyers: Much of Todd’s interview with Giuliani centered on Times reporting that White House counsel Don McGahn has “cooperated extensively” with Robert Mueller’s investigation. Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt followed up their initial report with a story, published after Giuliani’s MTP appearance, about the concerns among Trump’s advisors over what McGahn shared with Mueller’s team.

  • Twitter problems: Meet the Press’s Twitter account tweeted a quote from Giuliani claiming that Donald Trump, Jr. and others didn’t know the Russian government was involved in setting up the infamous Trump Tower meeting in 2016. The tweet received criticism from many, including NYU’s Jay Rosen, who wrote, “Somehow @meetthepress thinks it is still operating in the era where passing along misinformation—a claim that has already been proven false—is perfectly fine as long as it’s attributed to a public figure you had on your show. The consensus around that practice is long gone.”


Other notable stories

  • In an extensive interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey again promised to “question everything” as the company reconsiders incentives. Last week for CJR, Mathew Ingram argued that we shouldn’t take anything Dorsey says seriously.
  • Writing in response to last week’s wave of editorials, David Uberti argues for CJR that the war with Trump is best left to the national papers. Local outlets, he writes, should focus on the real threat to their existence: shifts in business and technology. The Post’s Margaret Sullivan adds that the editorials were fine, but a better use of press solidarity would be meaningful collaboration to take on issues like battling against “tariffs that are jacking up newsprint prices,” forcing tech platforms to “treat their editorial content with respect,” and even solving “the urgent crisis in local news.”
  • For the past five years, John J. Lennon has worked as a freelance journalist whose pieces have been published by The Atlantic, The New York Times, Pacific Standard, Esquire. He’s also serving 28 years to life for murder and selling drugs. For CJR, Tony Rehegan profiles the freelance writer of Sing Sing.
  • New ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro “wants the network to focus more on sports and less on politics,” reports The Washington Post’s Ben Strauss. Pitaro told reporters that improving relations with the NFL by focusing less on issues like protests against racial injustice and police brutality is part of that effort. Meanwhile, The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis examines why ESPN chose Joe Tessitore to rebuild its relationship with the NFL.
  • After the Queens Chronicle reported that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez banned reporters from a public town hall, Post reporter Seung Min Kim tweeted that she “is in for a rough time on Capitol Hill—where reporters roam freely at all hours of the day and night—if this is her attitude toward the press.”
  • Los Angeles is finally getting its own version of NY1. The LA Times’s Meg James reports on Charter Spectrum’s plan to launch a 24-hour local news channel in November.

ICYMI: We’re all caught in the dizzying Trump news cycle

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.