Jake Tapper and the 3 basic truths of covering Trump's falsehoods
Jake Tapper went on Bill Maher’s HBO show on Friday night and spoke at-length about how the media covers and should cover President Trump.
Tapper has emerged as the conscience of cable news in recent weeks, unafraid to bluntly call out Trump and his team’s falsehoods and other strange conduct. Just hours before the HBO interview, Tapper said on his CNN show that it was “an embarrassment” for White House press secretary Sean Spicer to recite a Fox News analyst’s claim that British intelligence spied on Trump for President Obama. (Britain is understandably unhappy about the evidence-free claim.)
.@jaketapper is on fire right now, calls Spicer’s decision to cite Napolitano’s GCHQ claim “an embarrassment.”
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) March 17, 2017
Tapper’s interview with Maher touched on three truths that I keep coming back to when I’m asked about covering Trump, so I thought it worth spelling them out here.
1. The Trump administration’s falsehoods are simply on another level
People complain about how hard the media is on Trump; it’s in very large part because there is just such a massive quantity of falsehoods and controversy. And the media’s first obligation is to the truth.
Tapper noted that peddling evidence-free conspiracy theories is quite a bit different from President Obama’s “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” comment, which was PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year in 2013.
“Politicians lie. It wasn’t invented on January 20th,” Tapper said, pointing to Obama’s comment and the selling of the Iraq War. “I’ve never really seen this level of falsehood — just quantitatively.”
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker has identified 247 false or misleading claims in Trump’s first not-quite two months in office. He has gone a grand total of two full days without uttering something false or misleading. On the first of those two days, it was because he said almost nothing publicly.
2. Pointing this out reinforces the White House’s media-vs.-Trump narrative, but that doesn’t mean the media should change
“I refuse to buy into that paradigm,” Tapper said. “Because the truth of the matter is there’s no bias when it comes to facts, and there’s no bias when it comes to indecency. It is empirically indecent to make fun of the disabled. … That’s just indecent. My children know better than that.”
3. Not all Trump supporters are un-bothered by these things
Polls shows many people who wound up voting for Trump thought he said offensive things about women, minorities and Muslims. Polls today show many Trump supporters wish he would change his Twitter ways.
“I think they didn’t like Hillary Clinton for a whole bunch of reasons that I’m not going to cite here,” Tapper said, “and they wanted Washington to do something for them. It’s not empirically wrong to say that Washington isn’t working for the American people and Washington does too many things for powerful special interests and it’s broken.”
In other words: Plenty of people voted for Trump despite these things — and still care that their president is engaging in this kind of behavior. He won, yes, but his election was hardly a full-scale endorsement of this kind of behavior.