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Trump’s Lies Are No Laughing Matter For The Press

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Trump’s Lies Are No Laughing Matter For The Press

Trump v the press
Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Appearing at the annual Radio and Television News Correspondents Association dinner in March 2004, just as his reelection campaign was gearing up, President George W. Bush continued the black-tie evening’s tradition and set aside some moments in his address to poke fun at himself.

The punchline that year: Bush couldn’t find Saddam Hussein’s weapons of the mass destruction; the WMDs that had served as the rationale for launching the invasion of Iraq one year earlier.

As the lights at the Washington Hilton ballroom dimmed, Bush narrated a “White House Election-Year Album,” and photos flashed on the screen behind him. One slide showed Bush in the Oval Office, searching under a piece of furniture. “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere,” he told the audience. The slideshow continued with him checking different parts of his office. “Nope, no weapons over there,” he said, “Maybe under here.”

The crowd loved it. (Bush can’t find the WMDs!) “Laughter erupted from the crowd of journalists, politicians and their guests then and at other times during Bush’s remarks,” NBC reported.

Reporters joined Bush in having a good laugh at the acknowledgement that the Republican administration’s premise for a preemptive invasion had been built on WMDs, which still could not be found.

That was the joke.

Even after Democrats objected, insisting it was tasteless to joke about WMDs while U.S. military men and women were dying in Iraq, Beltway journalists backed Bush. “The pictures were funny,” Washington Post news reporter Ceci Connolly announced on Fox News. “I laughed at the photos.”

Fast-forward to last Friday when White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the new (and robust) U.S. employment numbers, and specifically whether President Donald Trump accepted them as being accurate considering during the campaign he routinely insisted U.S. unemployment figures were rigged and phony. (At one point he suggested the real unemployment rate was 42 percent!) Unable to contain his smile, Spicer responded, “I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly. They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”

And with that, the press room broke into hearty laughter. Reporters joined Spicer in having a good guffaw at the suggestion that the Republican nominee had lied about unemployment figures during the campaign in an overt effort to undercut voters’ faith in the government, and was now basically conceding he had lied.

That was the joke.

“It’s a pretty good indicator of how much Trump has succeeded in lowering the bar in terms of standards of conduct,” wrote Vox’s Matthew Yglesias.

While laughing about Trump’s mendacity on employment numbers isn’t as outwardly egregious as laughing along with Bush’s WMD bit, normalizing Trump’s radical agenda — and especially his penchant for casual lying– is not funny, nor should it be treated in a lighthearted manner. (Just like laughing about WMDs was a really bad idea for journalists.) Lying about employment figures and propagating the dark theme that the U.S. government constantly lies to citizens, even about non-controversial issues like jobs statistics, is dangerous. And it doesn’t deserve a laugh track.

Note that right after the election, The New York Times invited Trump for a meeting with the publisher and then a round-table discussion with some reporters and columnists. This came just days after Trump met with television news executives and loudly berated them for being dishonest. Yet the transcripts of the newspaper event showed laughter broke out repeatedly between Trump and the staffers.

That seemed like an odd way to treat someone who campaigned on an offensive, anti-media message, and who once mocked a Times reporter with a physical disability during a campaign rally. Then again, that meeting was back in November, and maybe that laughter reflected nervous attempts by Times journalists to mend some fences with the incoming president.

Today, given Trump’s radical agenda and his off-the-charts attacks on the free press, it’s hard to imagine any circumstances where journalists should be laughing along with Trump or his spokesman.

And that was the problem with Friday’s feel-good press briefing outburst. It sent a troubling message, which was, ‘We get that Trump’s a liar, and we get that Spicer lies on his behalf daily. We’re all in on this weird, kabuki theater production together and when Spicer occasionally punctures/acknowledges the performance — when he concedes the whole premise is built on obvious falsehoods — it’s actually kind of funny.’

But here’s the thing: If the press thinks Trump having lied about unemployment numbers is funny, what else will soon be dubbed hilarious? Weeks from now will White House reporters break into laughter if Spicer ever admits Trump has been lying about having Mexico pay for the border wall? Or that Trump lied about the new Republican health care plan covering “everybody”? Or that he lied about voter fraud, being the target of never-ending IRS audits, and about President Barack Obama having wiretapped Trump Tower?

Here’s the other key point about why the belly laughs were so out of place: Spicer lies all the time. “It’s gotten to the point where even Sean Spicer’s Wednesday announcement that Donald Trump would not scrap the Easter Egg Roll might prompt a skeptic to wonder, ‘Is he being truthful?’” James Warren recently noted at Poynter.org.

And this administration lies all the time, and about deadly serious topics, such as health care coverage:

Meanwhile, keep in mind that the press briefing laughs came amid a bulldozer effort by the Trump White House to undercut the free press in America, in part by locking out journalists from reporting on how the government functions under Trump.

On the eve of Spicer’s joke about unemployment numbers, word got out that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wasn’t going to allow journalists to travel with him on his trip to Asia this week. It’s an unprecedented move designed to block media access. Despite that new setback, there reporters were on Friday, laughing it up with Spicer and sharing a chuckle about Trump being a congenital liar.



  1. FireBaron March 15, 2017

    Ah, but were the reporters with Spicey “real” reporters, or the typical alt-right trailer trash reporters we have come to expect with this administration?

    1. Eleanore Whitaker March 15, 2017

      I caught that too. The reporters Trump “approves” do not represent 60% of the country who want to be rid of Trump and his bag of Ruskie liars.

  2. TZToronto March 15, 2017

    The problem with Trump’s constant lying is that we’ll never know when he’s telling the truth. We’ll just assume that it’s another lie. Yes, I know, the boy who cried wolf. Obviously, this has been Trump modus operandi for many years, and he doesn’t know when he’s lying. The mouth opens (or the tiny fingers wiggle), and Trump’s brain issues a communication that even he is unaware of. Sick? Yes.

  3. rednekokie March 15, 2017

    While many of the American people have already discovered that Trump does nothing but tell lies, the rest of the world — especially those people who have, for many years, looked up to the American president as their most likely helpmate in difficult situations, do not, or have not, awakened to that fact.
    This, and this alone will propel us headlong into WW3. Then, it’s goodbye, world.
    Makes me grateful that, after 81 years, I won’t be around long enough to live through another Hitler, revisited.

    1. Eleanore Whitaker March 15, 2017

      The fact that our allies want NO part of Trump only supports our right to remove him from office. We know he is not a president. But you have a bunch of hick control freak politicians in office who have a majority who are all too willing to do the bidding of billionaires who provide campaign funding.

      We can only hope that Scalia is burning in hell for pushing that Citizen United BS that corporations are “people” on American voters. Now, NO election can be trusted going forward.

  4. Eleanore Whitaker March 15, 2017

    The idea of most liars is that when they lie, they must be believed and that once a lie is told, it is quickly forgotten. It is. Just not by those who hear the lies. Pathological liars like Trump are notorious for using lies to keep everyone around them in total chaos. That gives them the advantage of using their lies to control what others see and hear them do.

    Trump has been a liar since his Daddy Fred realized Donny Boy was all too much a Mommy Mary Ann’s boy and got caught in lies supported by Mommy Mary Ann. Now, he uses that same tactic: Pit one against the other using lies to create chaos he and only he can control. That’s the product of a very sick mind.

  5. Dr. Samuel Taddesse March 15, 2017

    What is the gain from lying? In the case of Bush / Cheney administration a lie was used to invade Iraq after a decision was made by the Vice President to take Saddam’s oil way before they took office. VP Dick Cheney and his collaborators did profit hugely. His company Halliburton got the oil and all other contracts including feeding and house the soldiers. In addition, the $18 billion set aside for reconstruction of Iraq evaporated. So there was a profit made by Cheney and his team by lying about Saddam’s WMD.

    Why is the Trump/Pence administration lying about everything? What is in store to benefit them? Is it madness or sickness?

    1. dpaano March 15, 2017

      I find it difficult for people to laugh at GWB’s parody on finding the WMDs…..after all, because of his blatant lie, over 4,000 of our young men and women were killed or maimed, along with as many civilian casualties! His unnecessary war gave rise to the Taliban and ISIS! So, I find it difficult to think that ANYONE could be laughing at this! It may have seemed funny, but when you think about the consequences of this, it makes me want to cry!

  6. pisces63 March 15, 2017

    As a 68 year old black woman, I take great exception to trump and his continually lying on President Obama. Now, he wiretapped him like he was that important. That isn’t bad enough, I have to listen to and watch deer in the headlights white people uttering in amazement, he said that, still not bad enough, then he is will have to prove it as if there is some suggestion of guilt on Obama’s part. Then they started making up other times and deer in the headlights, again. Why is this lying, amoral miscreant given so much leeway hen it comes to offending Obama. He does not like him, is jealous of him BIG TIME, jealous of his intellect, his smooth, class. EVERYTHING he is not. Laugh? Be glad I am not there. I lay you dollars to donuts, IF this were turned around and these things done by Obama, we would have had another revolution.

    1. dpaano March 15, 2017

      He blames Obama because he knows, deep down, that President Obama was widely respected and he (Trump) is not and never will be! This is why he continually offends President Obama. President Obama is the president that Trump will NEVER be!


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