Some Democrats say that they are “blue no matter who.” Trump, they say, is such an existential threat that they will vote for anyone who winds up as the Democratic nominee for president. But is it really wise to extend such a blank check to a party that has disappointed us so many times before?
Some of the major Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination still haven’t bothered to articulate cohesive policy promises, yet are receiving significant support and campaign contributions. Remember the old days, when politicians had enough respect for voters to lie to them?
Every defendant is entitled to a vigorous defense. That’s a basic principle of Western jurisprudence.
My belief in that precept was sorely tested by oral arguments in my defamation and wrongful termination case against The Los Angeles Times. It’s one thing for a lawyer to represent a distasteful client like the Times, whose crooked top management sold out its readers to the Los Angeles Police Department in a secret backroom deal. But when framing facts turns into outright lying in court, count me out.
I have great new lawyers. On July 14th, however, I was “between lawyers” because my previous ones had just dumped me and the scorched-earth Times defense team refused to grant me a delay so my new attorneys could get up to speed. So I was forced to represent myself pro se against a senior partner with three decades of experience as a courtroom litigator.
“Since the beginning of this case,” I opened, “the defense has tried to make this a complicated case about technicalities. In fact, it’s actually a very simple case.”
I went on to explain how, after a spotless six-year record as the paper’s cartoonist, the Times received a static-filled audio recording of unknown provenance from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Beck claimed the CD-R showed I’d lied in a blog post when I wrote that I was mistreated by a LAPD cop who’d arrested me for jaywalking.
I continued: “In fact, the audio did not show anything of the kind. In fact, the audio was obviously never listened to, because if they had, even if nothing else had happened, they would have been able to, in a quiet room with headphones, they would have been able to hear people arguing with the police officer. They would have heard phrases along the lines of, ‘Take them off. Take off his handcuffs,’ that sort of thing. The Times rushed to judgment. They operated extremely recklessly, negligently. They did not investigate the audio. They did not give me any benefit of the doubt whatsoever even though the doubt was 100 percent.”
Times lawyer Kelli Sager was unimpressed.
She is paid to be unimpressed.
“So Mr. Rall has repeated a lot of the stuff that’s in the [filing] papers. But as we said in our reply [motion] and as the court ruled on the individual defendants’ motion already, this is not a case about, quote/unquote, ‘truth.’”
I am so naïve. We were in a courtroom. If the truth — sorry, the quote/unquote ‘truth’ — doesn’t matter in a court, what does?
The Times’ answer: technicalities. Bear in mind, the Times is a newspaper. Their job is to print the truth.
“That’s not the argument that we made in the SLAPP motion [stet], whether or not the statements that he’s complaining about were true or not,” Sager continued. “The Fair Report Privilege doesn’t need the court to adjudicate the truth. The Fair Report Privilege looks at whether the gist and sting of what the articles reported were from records of the LAPD statements made by people in the LAPD that were official statements and so forth.”
Translation of the Times’ defense: It doesn’t matter if the Times published lies and refused to retract. Under California’s anti-SLAPP law — which is abused by deep-pocketed corporations so they can libel poor individuals with impunity — the Times can write whatever it wants as long as it generalizes about something a policeman said in a police record. This, of course, ignores the existence of defamation and libel statutes.
Sager went on: “Whether the Times had a good motive or bad motive is irrelevant under the law.”
Not really. The Times claims that I am a public figure. If the court agrees, Sullivan v. New York Times, the 1964 case that redefined defamation law, would be pertinent: “The Court held that the First Amendment protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials except when statements are made with actual malice (with knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity).” When the Times published its two pieces about me, they knew that what they were publishing (that their audio showed I was a liar) was false and they didn’t care. Motive matters.
Oh, the lies! Like when Sager said: “So there is no dispute that the records came from the LAPD.”
An hour earlier, in the same hearing, in front of Sager, I had said:
“I dispute that these records were officially released by the LAPD. There is a declaration by the investigative reporter Greg Palast in that giant pile of paper next to you in which he says that he contacted the public information office of the LAPD and in no uncertain terms they denied ever having released the documents and the audio. And in fact, that they’re still in the evidence room over at the LAPD. So what we have here is a case of conflation; a cases of many lies of omission, some lies of commission. But one of the big lies of omission is that the L.A. Times is trying to pretend that Chief Beck is the LAPD. And that is no more true than President Trump is the United States government. The official records have never been released.”
How could she say there was no dispute?
Sager couldn’t argue the facts. So she pretended the facts didn’t exist.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
This week’s political coverage — probably next week’s too — will likely be dominated by deposed FBI director James Comey’s incendiary testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, Trump’s “lies, pure and simple” are limited neither to the president’s claim that Comey’s FBI was “in disarray, that it was poorly led” nor his litany of falsehoods — most recently, that the mayor of London doesn’t care about terrorism and that Trump’s First 100 Days were the most productive of any president in history.
Comey’s lucid, Hemingway-tight testimony feels like the beginning of the end for this administration. Anything could happen, of course. But it feels overly optimistic to imagine this circus lasting another year.
If and when the obituary for Trump’s political career is written, his admirers will record his historic, meteoric rise. Indeed, Donald Trump was the most effective presidential campaigner of my lifetime: repeated what lines worked, ditched the ones that didn’t, mastered social media, ignored outdated dogma, tapped into voters’ long-ignored resentments, nailed the electoral college map, and did it all for pennies on the Hillary Clinton donor dollar.
True, the brilliant campaigner can’t govern. But that’s a story for another time.
His critics’ postmortems will emphasize that Trump’s brightly burning campaign rallies were fueled by lies: Obama was Muslim, Obama wasn’t born here, global warming is a Chinese hoax, illegal immigrants are streaming across the border (years ago they were, no longer), police officers are the real victims (as opposed to the numerous black men they shoot).
These lies are scandalous. They ought to be remembered. But we shouldn’t let them overshadow Trump’s biggest lie of all: that he would be different, outside the ideological box of the two parties.
“Trump meets the textbook definition of an ideological moderate,” Doug Ahler and David Broockman wrote in the Washington Post last December. “Trump has the exact ‘moderate’ qualities that many pundits and political reformers yearn for in politicians: Many of Trump’s positions spurn party orthodoxy, yet are popular among voters. And like most voters — but unlike most party politicians — his positions don’t consistently hew to a familiar left-right philosophy.”
Trump promised a hodgepodge ideology, a “pick one from column D, pick one from column R” Chinese menu that appealed to many voters whose own values don’t neatly adhere to either major party platform. Who cares about doctrine? Let’s do what works.
As president, however, that turned out to be a lie.
Trump has governed to the far right. In fact, on just about every issue you can think of, Donald Trump has governed as the most extreme far-right politician of our lifetimes, and possibly in the history of the Republican Party.
Candidate Trump criticized North Carolina’s “bathroom law” and said Caitlyn Jenner could use whichever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower. President Trump rescinded the right of transgender students to use the school restroom of their choice.
Flip, flop, from somewhat to right-wing conservative, over and over and over again.
Candidate Trump lit up the GOP (and relieved not a few Democrats) by criticizing the stupid Iraq War and promising to put America First. President Trump’s cabinet of generals is bombing the crap out of Syria and asking Congress for a 10% increase in Pentagon spending.
Candidate Trump was all over the place on abortion rights. President Trump is trying to defund Planned Parenthood and appointed Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, a right-wing extremist who will likely cast the decisive vote against Roe v. Wade.
He even welched on his most controversial promise: to improve relations with Russia. Within a few months, he allowed that U.S.-Russian relations “may be at an all-time low.”
“Trumpism was never a coherent worldview, much less a moral code that anchors the president,” Graham Vyse wrote in The New Republic.
Trumpism is extremely coherent and consistently extremist. Donald Trump turns out to be Ronald Reagan times ten, minus charm.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Most of the news media is at war with Donald Trump, and rightly so. First, journalists should always be at war with the governments they cover. Nonadversarial journalism isn’t journalism — it’s stenography. Second, Trump Administration officials’ refusal to even pretend to be interested in the truth, immortalized by Kellyanne Conway’s notorious praise of “alternative facts,” demands highly caffeinated contempt.
But let’s not forget an inconvenient truth. Pre-Trump, the watchdogs of democracy were mostly lapdogs, gently licking the blood-soaked hands of those who fed them: America’s political and corporate elites.
Media malpractice has been so sustained and widespread that it’s hard to know where to start. Opinion pages and cable news panel shows where no one to the left of Hillary Clinton is allowed? The abandonment of local news coverage? Massive social and economic upheavals ignored because they only afflict the poor and the middle-class-en-route-to-poor: the rusting of the Rust Belt, the meth and opioid epidemics, the replacement of good jobs by bad ones, the faking of low unemployment and inflation rates?
Editors and producers are guilty of many sins. For my money, however, the biggest and lying-est are the big lies of omission that leave important facts unknown to the public for years and even decades, result in many deaths, and let the perpetrators off the hook both legally and historically.
August publications like The New York Times have finally begun reporting that the president lied when he, you know, lied — as opposed to some weasel word like “misspoke” or counterquoting from an opposing politician. They’re even using “torture” to describe torture (instead of “enhanced interrogation techniques”). But that’s new, and it’s only because they’re corporate liberal and Trump is blogosphere crazy right-wing. Give them another Obama and it’ll be back to giving the people the business as usual.
The high body counts of war spotlight the staggering moral failures of a press that, day after day, fail to remind readers of fundamental truths that usually get suppressed from the outset.
For the better part of a decade, American citizens paid good money for newspapers that purported to bring them the news from Vietnam. What those papers never told them was that the reason LBJ gave for entering the war, a 1964 attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, never happened. This isn’t controversial; liberal and conservative historians alike agree the war was sold on fake news.
Imagine if the media had begun every story about Vietnam with a Trump-era-ish reference to Johnson’s big lie? “Continuing Unprovoked Attack on North Vietnam, U.S. B-52s Rain Death on Hanoi Without Reason.” Significantly less than 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese might have died.
After the U.S. lost — which they reported as a withdrawal rather than what really happened — lazy and easily cowed journalists and editors let stand the canard that returning Vietnam War vets were spat upon, insulted as “baby killers” and generally mistreated by dirty leftie hippies waiting for them at the airport. It never happened. To the contrary, the antiwar movement was supportive of vets, running clinics and other facilities to help them out. The myth of the spat-upon hippie, it turns out, began with the 1982 movie “Rambo,” when Sylvester Stallone’s character says it — probably as a metaphor.
Afghanistan’s Taliban government had nothing to do with 9/11, but few Americans know that. Even the soldiers sent to fight, kill and die there thought they were avenging the attack on the World Trade Center — and why not? Thanks to the Bush-era fake news purveyors, few of even the best read and most informed Americans know that Osama bin Laden was already in Pakistan on 9/11, that the Taliban offered to arrest him and turn him over if the U.S. showed some evidence of his guilt, that Al Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan (the vast majority were in Pakistan, as were the infamous training camps), and that there wasn’t a single Afghan among the 19 hijackers.
Would Afghanistan have become America’s longest war if news headlines had read something like “Bush Promises To Hunt Down Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Country Where They Aren’t, Sends Weapons and Cash to Country Where They Are”? Doubtful.
That the media fell down on the job during the build-up to the Iraq War is well-documented. Yet, even after the WMDs failed to turn up in that country after we destroyed it, the media never applied the standard they now stick on Trump, e.g. “Continuing Unjustified Assault on Innocent Iraq, Marines Prepare For Battle in Fallujah.” Talk about fake news — even if Saddam Hussein had had WMDs, Iraq’s lack of long-range ballistic missiles meant it never could have posed a threat to the United States.
Alternative facts abounded under Obama.
Obama launched hundreds of drone attacks against Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere that killed thousands of people. Studies showed that 49 out of 50 people killed were innocent bystanders, and that the other 1 were local guerilla fighters who hated their own local governments, not anti-American jihadis coming to kill us here. Yet story after story about drone assassinations referred to victims as “militants” or even “terrorists,” without a shred of evidence. If you’re going to let your president kill people just for fun, the least the media as a watchdog could do is call it what it is: “President Murders 14 More Muslims Cuz Fun.” Did you know the military calls them “squirters” — because their heads, you know…?
The president called out as a liar? Better 240 years late than never.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Hillary Clinton’s strategists have identified Donald Trump’s innumerable lies as a major weakness in his campaign for president. They’re smart. Trump does lie a lot. He often gets caught lying. Voters want their next president to be trustworthy.
What the Clintonites and their allies in the media don’t seem to understand, however, is that if your attacks on your rival’s truthfulness are themselves based on lies, your efforts are doomed to failure.
In a recent op-ed column for the New York Times, Charles M. Blow wrote that Trump “is prone to making up his own set of false facts.” (Let’s leave aside the fact that, by definition, facts are true.)
“[Trump] wildly exaggerated the number of immigrants in this country illegally and ‘inner city’ crime rates,” Blow wrote. “He said President Obama founded ISIS and that the Obama administration was actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group that became the Islamic State.”
I like Blow and often agree with him — though, for the life of me, I will never understand why he was so hard on Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries and so willing to excuse Hillary Clinton’s dismal record on issues of concern to African-Americans and LGBTQ people. Now he appears to have embraced the two-party trap, using his platform to bash Trump. That’s his right, of course. What I find fascinating is Blow’s willingness to resort to untruth to make his case for Hillary. Is it really so difficult to focus on Trump and his well-documented lies?
Consider the above quote, for example. It’s true that Trump said that there were 30 million illegal immigrants in the United States. (The real number is closer to 11 million.) Follow Blow’s link, however, and you find that he said that in July 2015 – well over a year ago. Nowadays, he acknowledges the widely accepted 11 million figure, albeit with the caveat that government statistics shouldn’t be trusted because they are compiled by incompetents. “Our government has no idea. It could be three million. It could be 30 million,” he said recently.
Trump is right. It’s impossible to know for sure, although the range is probably narrower than his example. The point is, the Times and Charles Blow willfully misrepresented Trump’s position by dragging up an ancient quote, since corrected. It’s the kind of thing Trump does, and it’s sleazy.
Similarly, it’s a stretch to say that Trump “wildly exaggerated” inner-city crime rates. Politifact has backed away from their previous assessment that he had lied about an uptick in urban crime. It’s pretty clear that Trump was referring to the widely reported rise in crime in cities like Chicago. The media has seized upon his use of the modifier “record” in the phrase “record high”; while crime has indeed been higher historically, shootings have spiked in places like Chicago.
The Islamic State claim is particularly unworthy of a storied newspaper like the New York Times. When Donald Trump called President Obama “the founder of ISIS,” it’s obvious to everyone what he meant. He was being colloquial. He was speaking like a normal person. Obviously Obama wasn’t literally at the founding of ISIS. Trump meant that Obama’s policies – namely his financing and arming of the radical Islamic fundamentalists in Syria’s civil war, a faction of which became ISIS, and the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq which created a vacuum of power — effectively created the group as the monster that we know it as today. Many Middle East experts agree with this assessment, as do mainstream political observers, including some who oppose Trump. Blow’s nitpicking is unbecoming, inaccurate and so transparent as to be totally ineffectual.
Another Times columnist, Frank Bruni, recently repeated the oft-cited claim that Trump treasonously “encouraged” Russian hackers to steal U.S. government records and interfere with the election when he sarcastically suggested: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton State Department] emails that are missing.”
Give me a break. I’m not going to vote for The Donald. I think he’s dangerous. But everyone knows exactly what he meant. He wasn’t encouraging Russian hacking. He was making a point in a humorous way: that it’s ridiculous and frustrating that Secretary Clinton got away with deleting so many public records.
Why are Hillary’s people resorting to the exact same style of lying that they claim to criticize? I don’t know if it’s because the truth of some claim is of little concern to them compared to it possible effectiveness, or if it’s because they believe that the numerous legitimate criticisms of Trump — his breathtaking ignorance of history and politics, his glib encouragement of violence at his rallies, his inexperience in government, his authoritarian tendencies — are unlikely to get much traction.
What I do know is that, unlike Trump, they aren’t fooling anyone.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.)
Originally Published by ANewDomain:
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an essay for BreakingModern about the Brian Williams scandal, and how it reflects the sick cult of militarism that has ruled America and its media since 9/11. “You can tell a lot about a society’s values from its lies,” I said.
Williams’ attempt to portray himself as some kind of bad-ass journo-soldier was preceded by Hillary Clinton’s false claim of dodging enemy fire in Bosnia and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal’s lie that he had served in Vietnam.
Now two more public figures are being accused of ginning up accounts of courage in war zones.
FOXNews host Bill O’Reilly is fending off charges that he repeatedly bragged about dodging bullets during the Falklands war though he never came close to the war zone, having been confined by Argentine authorities to the capital of Buenos Aires. He is attempting to defend himself by saying he was caught in a riot there, where he was shot at by police or soldiers, but most of his fellow CBS veterans remember it differently.
O’Reilly, characteristically aggressive, threatened a reporter for the New York Times that he would retaliate if they weren’t fair to him: “I am coming after you with everything I have,” he said. “You can take it as a threat.”
Disclosure: I have appeared several times on “The O’Reilly Factor.” A statement by one of O’Reilly’s accusers sums up my experience: “Nobody gets a fair shake. just wants to beat them up, call them names.” I didn’t care about that, but I’m still annoyed about the fact that, when I went on his show at the beginning of the occupation of Afghanistan to predict that the war would go badly for the United States, he promised on the air — after mocking me and questioning my patriotism — to have me back later to see who was right.
I sure would have liked to have performed my little victory dance.
And now there is another apparent case of an armchair warrior pretending to have served in the military: US Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert MacDonald. He apologized yesterday for saying that he had served in the Army’s elite Special Forces.
In fact, MacDonald graduated from West Point in 1975 and served in the 82nd Airborne Division – hardly the resume of a wimpy pacifist unqualified to attempt to unravel the hot mess that his department has become.
As I wrote about Brian Williams, the O’Reilly and MacDonald cases tell us a lot more about contemporary American culture and the cult of militarism than they do about these two guys.
If it matters, Williams has been in harm’s way in war zones. O’Reilly has an enviable career as a successful TV and radio host, best-selling author and yes, a prehistory as a real journalist.
MacDonald really was a soldier, if not the exact kind of bad-ass super trooper he was compelled to present himself as.
The point is, why do these people, who are incredibly accomplished professionally and in some cases have demonstrated real courage under fire, feel tempted to puff themselves up in this particular way?
We have developed a martial culture to the exclusion of all else. You don’t see teachers thanked for their service on television – hell, you don’t really see teachers on television much at all. Nor nurses. Nor musicians. Nor playwrights. Nor artists. In the United States in 2015, the way that you get people to show you deference is to claim to have fought in one of America’s many optional wars of aggression or, failing that, to have gotten caught in the line of fire as a journalist, or perhaps a former hostage.
If you don’t see that there is something terribly wrong with that, odds are you are either part of the problem or one of its victims.
NBC News anchorman Brian Williams got in trouble for fibbing about a supposed close call while embedded with US soldiers occupying Iraq in 2003. Why didn’t he get in trouble for being embedded in the first place? Or for the bigger lies inherent in the way he and other news networks package US government and military propaganda?
Originally published at Breaking Modern:
Like most children, I grew up in a house without a chimney or fireplace. This made the Santa myth, which relies on a child’s unawareness of the size of the earth and its population, immediately less credible. How did the jolly fat guy gain access to our home, I questioned my mother?
No answer. I could see the wheels turning.
“He couldn’t possibly fit down the flue? Could he?” I tried to help.
I opened the utility closet. The pipe from the central heater and air conditioning convection unit to the ceiling was about six inches in diameter. Santa ferret?
Mom gave up. (If this convo happened today, she could have ordered a prevarification aid like Santa’s Magical House Key.)
Anyway, mom sat me down and confessed the truth: there’s no Santa, just a 10th-century Nordic myth. There was a reason, after all, that gifts labeled “from Santa” shared the same distinct handwriting as my mom’s.
When I tell this story to friends who are parents, they react with horror. “How awful! She deprived you of your imagination! Didn’t she want you to enjoy your childhood?” That point of view is represented by a 2010 essay in the San Francisco Chronicle: “All these childhood myths serve a brilliant purpose: a gentle way for kids to learn well-intended parents are not always reliable sources of truth.”
A 2012 Slate piece argues that not every lie is created equal: “First: Let go of any guilt you have about duping your kids. Santa belongs in the ‘good lie’ pile because parents invoke him for their kids’ sake; bad lies are the ones parents use to deflect blame or avoid responsibility—we can’t go to the playground today because it’s closed, when really, you’re just too lazy to get off the couch.”
I come down on the exact opposite side: A lie is a lie is a lie.
My mother’s decision to tell the truth about the Christmas myth is something for which I will be grateful my entire life. It certainly doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted my imagination: I’m a successful cartoonist and an excellent storyteller. But it did establish at an early age that I could count on my mother to tell me the unvarnished, honest truth. I knew, for many years following that incident, that I could count upon her for a no bullshit view of the world. It strengthened my trust in her, and therefore in my love for her. It was definitely a win-win.
While other parents kept lying to their elementary school-aged and even older children, especially about sex, my mother replied to my question about the birds and the bees by taking down her college biology book and showing what went in where and what happened after that.
Don’t get me wrong. My mother and I didn’t have a perfect relationship. Breaches of faith opened up between us. Mostly, however, this occurred not when my mom tried to protect me from some kind of unpleasant truth, but when she tried to bullshit me.
Never lie to someone unless you are sure you will get away with it.
For whatever reason, my mom tried to blow smoke up my tuckus more when I was a teenager and therefore even less likely to fall for bullshit – especially since she had already made the “mistake” of teaching me critical thinking and reading between the lines. Suddenly God, previously an abstraction, was marketed to me as a real, living entity who knew everything that I was up to and would punish me if I did wrong.
Definitely a mistake to try this bigger version of the Santa myth on me. I remember thinking to myself, “wow, she really thinks I’m stupid. I don’t know why I would confide in her. And when I experienced teen crises – sex, drugs, depression, academic problems – I became less likely to confide or share.
You don’t need to be a psychologist specializing in early childhood to know that trust creates the strongest bond between humans. Whether it’s a friend or a parent, think about it: as an adult, you believe in people whom you can count upon to give it to you straight.
Children aren’t stupider than adults. They’re certainly more observant. Don’t insult their intelligence.
And don’t worry about stifling their imagination.
“The Santa Lie…does not actually promote imagination or imaginative play,” William Irwin and David Kyle Johnson write in Psychology Today. “Imagination involves pretending, and to pretend that something exists, one has to believe that thing doesn’t exist. Does the Christian “imagine” that Jesus rose from the dead? Does the Muslim “imagine” that Muhammed’s rode his horse Barack (Al Boraq) at lightening speed from Mecca to Jerusalem and then assended into heaven? Of course not; they believe these things are true. Tricking a child into literally believing that Santa exists doesn’t encourage imagination, it actually stifles it. If you really want to encourage imagination in your children, tell them that Santa doesn’t exist, but that you are going to pretend like he does anyway on Christmas morning.”
This Christmas season, don’t give in to the temptation of signing off on a ridiculously transparent lie that will begin to undermine your relationship with your child. Tell her the truth. She can take it. She’ll love you more for it.