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Pence, Trump, Ryan

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as delivers his first State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud. (Photo: Win McNamee/AP)

Why 'Fact-Checking' Gives Liars a Free Pass

The story isn't that Trump gets his facts wrong—it's that he's a serial liar

John Atcheson

Look, let’s face it, the press has been enabling Trump in particular and the conservatives in general by the way it has been addressing the blatant lying, deception, misdirection, and other forms of lying. 

The fact that the controlling party in our country consistently lies to the American people, and that it rejects science, facts, and reality?  Oh, can’t say that. Wouldn’t be balanced, you know.

For the most part, the press reports the disagreement between parties as legitimate differences in opinion, long after it’s become obvious that one side is lying. For example, for decades, now, Republicans have been justifying giant tax giveaways to the rich and corporations under the guise of trickle-down, supply-side, job-creators or some other claim that what’s good for the rich is good for all of us. But it’s literally never been demonstrated. In fact, the data shows that there is no correlation whatsoever between the top marginal tax rate and economic growth. None. Zero. Nada, Zilch. The same is true for job creation.

Yet nominally liberal outlets like NPR have been allowing serial liars like Paul Ryan to claim the connection exists without noting it doesn’t. Oh, I suppose it’s possible that Ryan is an idiot, not a liar, but either way, NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and a host of other “liberal” outlets report on Ryan’s or Trump’s or McConnell’s claims as if they were plausible, then report on the Democrats’ rejection of the trickle down as if it, too were simply one of many possibilities, leaving out the obvious reality that there’s an objective truth out there that shows one claim to be a lie, the other true. The fact that Democrats are often complicit with Republicans in passing policies that favor the rich makes the press’s failure all the more serious.

To the extent mainstream media does attempt to divine the truth, they’ll do it in the context of “fact-checking.” Now, the implication of fact-checking is that one side or the other simply got their facts wrong. And maybe the first time out of the gate, that’s the approach we should take. Maybe it was OK, to give Reagan a pass in his first two years when he pushed “supply-side,” even though we knew then that, historically, lower taxes on the rich and less regulation of the financial sector had led to the two biggest economic dislocations in U.S. history. But, hey, maybe Ronnie didn’t know that. But when it happened again after Bush’s tax cuts and deregulation led to the second worst recession in U.S. history in 2008 and 2009, the MSM should have caught on.

When the “mistakes and misstatements” happen over and over again even after they’ve been show to be false, folks aren’t getting their facts wrong, they’re lying. Intentionally. Blatantly. And because the press largely refuses to call them what they are—liars—they can do it again and again with impunity. 

Which brings us to Trump’s whole border wall idiocy. After his televised speech, there was a whole lot of fact-checking, a lot of false equivalence, but the main story, what should have been the headline, went unreported. The real story here is that Trump is a blatant, inveterate, liar, not that he was wrong on this or that fact. And the second lead should have been that his entire party seems content to go along with him.

 Virtually every justification he gave for his wall was a lie, knowingly told. For example: 

  • Crime: Immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than residents so letting them in would actually reduce the crime rate.
  • Drugs:  Most drugs are smuggled in at ports of call, so a wall would have little to no effect on the amount of drugs being smuggled into the U.S.  
  • Terrorists: Our best data suggests that only six people on the terrorist watch list were stopped at the southern border over the past six months; the thousands of “terrorists” cited by the Trump administration to justify the wall, refer to stops made at airports and on the northern border and even here we’re talking about folks who are on a watch list, and few of these are known terrorists. So here again, a wall would do little to make us more secure.
  • The humanitarian crisis: Here, Trump was not directly lying. There is a humanitarian crisis brewing on our southern border.  But what Trump left out is that it is his policies which are responsible for most of the crisis.  

Trump, the press, and the Republicans have known these assertions are lies. They’ve been called on it numerous times, although the mainstream corporate media does so in the context of “fact-checks” or in opinion pieces, leaving the hard news stories to report merely what both “sides” say, as if reality didn’t exist. This balance, or both-sidism, approach to reporting enables liars and the lying liars who tell them to escape the consequences of their lies.

Liberal media?  What a joke. It, like both political parties, is neither liberal nor conservative; it’s corporatized, plain and simple.

Of course it doesn’t help that the Democrats’ response looked and sounded like a parody of American Gothic on tranquilizers, and that their focus seemed to be on the horrors of having part of government shut down.  Yeah, it’s bad that pretty soon we’ll be eating food that hasn’t been inspected, and that folks aren’t getting paid and that people are dying in our national parks, among other tragedies, but this will come to an end eventually. Isn’t the fact that one entire party—the one that controls most of government—has been systematically lying to the American people for decades now more important than a temporary government shutdown? Probably the only Democrat to take on the lies and the moral bankruptcy of Trump and his Republican enablers with passion, and with facts was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.).  

But if you were to read the corporatized mainstream media, you could come away with the idea that Trump and his cronies got a few of their facts wrong, and that the Democrats were equally at fault for the shutdown.

The fact that the controlling party in our country consistently lies to the American people, and that it rejects science, facts, and reality?  Oh, can’t say that. Wouldn’t be balanced, you know.   

And so they consign the most important issue facing the country to side columns on fact-checking, full of false equivalence.  

Liberal media?  What a joke. It, like both political parties, is neither liberal nor conservative; it’s corporatized, plain and simple—answerable to the amoral forces of the market, not the normative forces of institutions operating for the common good.  

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a CA car accident in January 2020.

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