Big surprise, eh?
I won’t bore you with all the examples: just have a look at the video from yesterday’s post in which he gets himself caught in the incredibly simple lie of claiming to have read a letter he hadn’t opened.
Of course it’s worrying that the president of the United States is an inveterate liar and a cheap con man who’s already talking about pardoning himself. But what’s worrying a lot of people on top of all this, is how Trump’s lies are being reported.
I’ve seen quite a few tweets quoting tweets from journalists writing for prominent American newspapers. Their problem with these journalists is their use of euphemisms for the word lie when reporting on Trump (and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders): falsehoods, misleading statements, factually-accurate statements, etc.
Their argument is that by not directly identifying his lies for what they are, they’re not standing up to him as they should, and are enabling and normalising the lies coming from the White House. I understand that argument, and they’re right. If every lie was directly and vocally labelled a lie, Trump would probably learn to stop lying so frequently.
Probably, but I’m not convinced he’d really learn. It’s an odd, post-truth climate, where many Trump supporters probably wouldn’t really care if they knew he was lying, because he’s their man, and they’ve chosen to stick to their guns. Literally, in many cases. It’s not like they haven’t had plenty of chances to be disgusted by his lying already. Straight after his inauguration he started lying about the number of attendees (it’s how petty these lies are, and how obviously thin-skinned they show him to be, that astound me). Soon, the immortal phrase alternative facts was born. If that didn’t put his supporters off, changing falsehood to lie in a tweet won’t either.
It would also, honestly, be a bit of a departure from normal journalistic language, which is generally somewhat polite and formal, and would use euphemisms as a standard stylistic choice. Imagine if you read a New York Times article which began with Donald Trump lied today when he said… It might certainly be refreshing, but it would be a bit jarring too, wouldn’t it? Journalism always needs to have some objective distance, and a formal style helps achieve this.
That’s certainly changing, with Twitter’s hot-take approach favouring pithy, attention-grabbing, simplistic statements, and it’s no surprise that many now used to this style would favour a TRUMP LIES approach.
What I think though, is the main argument against this approach, is the issue of libel. I’m many journalists would be concerned about directly accusing Trump of lying, because of the accusations of libel which might ensue. How could they prove that Trump was intentionally lying? Using words and phrases like falsehood or misleading statement are much safer because they simply indicate that the statement is untrue, but don’t imply that the speaker is deliberately lying, which saves journalists from unpleasant legal repercussions.
Still, we do live in unprecedented times, with an unprecedented president. I don’t remember anyone demanding Bill Clinton’s I did not have sexual relations with that woman be labelled a lie. It so clearly was, and we weren’t bombarded with lies from him so often, that it wasn’t really necessary. But with Trump, there’s one lie, one outrage, after another after anothr, and maybe we do need to be more forceful in how we confront him on those.
It would also help to counter the increasing complaints about a lack of civility in political discourse. Now of course I think politeness should be aimed for as much as possible. But I’ve noticed a lot of people recently complaining about the tone of political debate as a way of skirting the real issues, or silencing critics of the establishment. We saw this recently when people lied about comedian Michelle Wolf making fun of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ appearance (she didn’t). I saw this happen a lot in the recent debates here in Ireland about the change of abortion legislation. Many campaigners for retaining the strict restrictions on abortion complaining about the tone of those who wanted liberalisation. This was again a way of avoiding dealing with real issues, but also, I think, a way to normalise lying and negative discourse, by forcing opponents into euphemisms or silence, rather than directly pointing out lies or negative behaviour.
I’m happy enough to call Trump a liar anyway, and a crook, and a racist, and a sexist, and millionaire (not a billionaire), and a buffoon, if you are.