Who can Americans trust? New Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani says the president knew about payments to Stormy Daniels, and reimbursed Michael Cohen $130,000. The president says Giuliani doesn’t have his facts straight. Trump criticizes President Obama for not freeing three American prisoners in North Korea, but two of them were taken captive after Trump took office. Kellyanne Conway says the press is focusing on the wrong issues. Sarah Sanders will have to get back to you on that.
It’s easy to criticize Trump’s visible spokespeople, but the problem starts at the top, and it’s nothing new. The White House has a credibility crisis that deepens with each tweet, revelation, and denial that strains the bounds of plausibility. Over the past week, journalists have been more willing to address that crisis directly.
“Do you think that [Trump’s] job includes lying to the American people? Because he continually does so, and he undermines his own administration when he does so,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said to Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway on Sunday morning. “Respectfully, you just want that to go viral. You just want to say the words ‘President Trump’ and ‘lie’ in the same sentence,” Conway replied, a non-answer to a yes-or-no question. “I would like him to stop lying, quite frankly,” Tapper responded.
The Washington Post’s Dan Balz, perhaps the most respected member of the Washington press corps, penned a blunt appraisal of what feels like a cumulative moment. “Does it bother anyone that President Trump has been caught lying? Does it bother anyone that this is not new? Does it bother anyone that the president has been shown to be a liar?” Balz asked. “The questions won’t go away. They are part of the fabric of this presidency.”
Last week, ABC News’s Jonathan Karl asked Sarah Sanders: “When the president so often says things that turn out not to be true, when the president and the White House show what appears to be a blatant disregard for the truth, how are the American people to trust or believe what is said here and what is said by the president?”
It is somehow apropos that Trump’s consistent battle with the truth would be crystallized by a story fit for the tabloids. The Stormy Daniels saga, now entering its fifth month in the news, has been at the center of the current focus on the administration’s confused, often contradictory attempts to push back against legitimate reports.
Trump’s advisors, from Conway to Sanders to newcomer Giuliani, will continue to have opportunities to obfuscate and deny, leaving reporters to sift through the questions and produce reliable answers. Missteps like the NBC news report that Michael Cohen had been wiretapped—an assertion that was quickly corrected—are seized on by the administration and its defenders as evidence that the media is the enemy, while Trump’s own lies are ignored or brushed aside.
There is a battle going on, but it’s not “the media” vs. Trump in the way the White House would like to portray the sides. On one side of the conflict are journalists who strive daily to discover the truth and deliver it to the public. On the other are administration figures who, whether by intention or ignorance, too often fail to answer questions or provide information that is flat out wrong.
Below, more on the White House’s problems with the truth.
- Trust in a crisis?: The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board identifies one of the biggest issues to come from Trump’s lies: “Trump is compiling a record that increases the likelihood that few will believe him during a genuine crisis.”
- Straight talk: Fox News’s Neil Cavuto provided a blistering monologue on his show last Thursday, cataloguing several of Trump’s false statements. It’s worth watching in full.
- On Sarah Sanders: The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, and Philip Rucker look at Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who, “by virtue of her position,…is inextricably bound in the mistruths of the Trump administration.”
- Management through controversy: NYU’s Jay Rosen sees a new pattern emerging among Trump’s advisors. Rosen argues that “any managing [of Trump’s behavior] will have to be done through semi-regular television appearances that explode the news cycle. Nothing else will the big boss trust.”
Other notable stories
- The New York Times’s Nick Kristof writes about the media’s Trump addiction, which leaves less time to focus on other stories. “President Trump truly is THE story in America today,” Kristof writes, but argues that “we have to figure out how to spare bandwidth for genocide in Myanmar, opioids in America and so on.”
- The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani reports that Billboard Media chief John Amato “hindered reporting of sexual-harassment allegations against his friend.” Amato’s titles include The Hollywood Reporter, which has done excellent work in the #MeToo era. But when it came to reporting on harassment allegations involving Republic Records’ ex-president Charlie Walk, Tani reports that Amato stepped in to protect his friend.
- I profiled CNN’s ubiquitous Brian Stelter, who sees a coordinated campaign against journalism. Through his weekly show, Reliable Sources, frequent appearances on CNN, wide-ranging media reporting, and rapid-fire tweets, Stelter has become one of serious journalism’s most visible advocates. “Stelter’s beat is thankless,” Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward told me. “But he’s doing it as well as anyone could given the highly polarized, endlessly omphaloskeptic media hellscape we all inhabit.”
- NPR’s David Folkenflik reports on Tronc’s decision “to recognize unions to represent journalists in negotiations at its Chicago-area publications.” The move is something of a surprise for a company that battled fiercely against recent labor efforts at the LA Times and has a history of anti-union hostility.
- For CJR, Human Rights Watch’s Belkis Wille has an important piece about how journalists may be putting ISIS suspects at risk of abuse. Frequent interviews with suspected ISIS members in captivity, from outlets ranging from the BBC to Vice, run the risk of exposing those subjects and their families to legal and physical risks, including torture.