Today, About sixty days left, and the race is heatting up, and Trump seems to be narrowing the gap from his loud mouth to Hillary's not-so-clean gap. ENJOY! To me, the Race is for Mrs Clinton to lose. Like in many democracis, the choice is for the LESSER OF TWO EVILS, my NegaraKu included. -- YL, Desi
Long ago, you-know-who suggested that propagandists should apply the “big lie” technique: make their falsehoods so huge, so egregious, that they would be widely accepted because nobody would believe they were lying on that grand a scale. And the technique has worked well for despots and would-be despots ever since.
But Donald Trump has come up with something new, which we can call the “big liar” technique. Taken one at a time, his lies are medium-size — not trivial, but mostly not rising to the level of blood libel. But the lies are constant, coming in a steady torrent, and are never acknowledged, simply repeated. He evidently believes that this strategy will keep the news media flummoxed, unable to believe, or at least say openly, that the candidate of a major party lies that much.
And Wednesday night’s “Commander in Chief” televised forum suggested that he may be right.
Obligatory disclaimer: No, I’m not saying that Mr. Trump is another Hitler. More like Mussolini. But I digress.
Back to the issue: All politicians are human beings, which means that all of them sometimes shade the truth. (Show me someone who claims to never lie, and I’ll show you someone who is lying.) The question is how much they lie, and how consequentially.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Hillary Clinton has been cagey about her email arrangements when she was secretary of state. But when you look at what the independent fact-checkers who have given her a “pants on fire” or “four Pinocchios” rating on this issue actually have to say, it’s remarkably weak: She stands accused of being overly legalistic or overstating the extent to which she has been cleared, but not of making major claims that are completely at odds with reality.
Oh, and it barely got covered in the media, but her claim that Colin Powell advised her to set up a private email account was … completely true, validated by an email that Mr. Powell sent three days after she took office, which contradicts some of his own claims.
And over all, her record on truthfulness, as compiled by PolitiFact, looks pretty good for a politician — much better than that of any of the contenders for the Republican nomination, and for that matter much better than that of Mitt Romney in the last presidential election.
Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is in a class of his own. He lies about statistics like the unemployment rate and the crime rate. He lies about foreign policy: President Obama is “the founder of ISIS.” But most of all, he lies about himself — and when the lies are exposed, he just keeps repeating them.
One obvious question going into Wednesday’s forum was whether Mr. Trump would repeat his frequent claim that he opposed the Iraq war from the start. This claim is demonstrably false: His only documented prewar remarks on the subject support the war, and the interview he likes to cite as evidence of his prescience took place more than a year after the war began. But he keeps saying it anyway; if he did it again, how would Matt Lauer, the moderator, respond?
Well, he did do it again — and Mr. Lauer, who used about a third of his time with Mrs. Clinton talking about emails, let it stand and moved on to the next question.
Why is it apparently so hard to hold Mr. Trump accountable for blatant, in-your-face lies? Part of the answer may be that journalists are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of outrageous material. After all, which Trump line should be the headliner for a news analysis of Wednesday’s event? His Iraq lie? His praise for Vladimir Putin, who “has an 82 percent approval rating”? His denigration of the American military, whose commanders, he says, have been “reduced to rubble”?
There’s also a deep diffidence about pointing out uncomfortable truths. Back in 2000, when I was first writing this column, I was discouraged from using the word “lie” about George W. Bush’s dishonest policy claims. As I recall, I was told that it was inappropriate to be that blunt about the candidate of one of our two major political parties. And something similar may be going on even now, with few people in the media willing to accept the reality that the G.O.P. has nominated someone whose lies are so blatant and frequent that they amount to sociopathy.
Even that observation, however, doesn’t explain the asymmetry, because some of the same media organizations that apparently find it impossible to point out Mr. Trump’s raw, consequential lies have no problem harassing Mrs. Clinton endlessly over minor misstatements and exaggerations, or sometimes over actions that were perfectly innocent. Is it sexism? I really don’t know, but it’s shocking to watch.
And meanwhile, if the question is whether Mr. Trump can really get away with his big liar routine, the evidence from Wednesday night suggests a disheartening answer: Unless something changes, yes he can.
Americans of a certain age who follow politics and policy closely still have vivid memories of the 2000 election — bad memories, and not just because the man who lost the popular vote somehow ended up in office. For the campaign leading up to that end game was nightmarish too.
You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged what would happen during his administration — an administration that, let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.
Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression that Mr. Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al Gore — whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the Bush plan were completely accurate — as slippery and dishonest. Mr. Gore’s mendacity was supposedly demonstrated by trivial anecdotes, none significant, some of them simply false. No, he never claimed to have invented the internet. But the image stuck.
And right now I and many others have the sick, sinking feeling that it’s happening again.
True, there aren’t many efforts to pretend that Donald Trump is a paragon of honesty. But it’s hard to escape the impression that he’s being graded on a curve. If he manages to read from a TelePrompter without going off script, he’s being presidential. If he seems to suggest that he wouldn’t round up all 11 million undocumented immigrants right away, he’s moving into the mainstream. And many of his multiple scandals, like what appear to be clear payoffs to state attorneys general to back off investigating Trump University, get remarkably little attention.
Meanwhile, we have the presumption that anything Hillary Clinton does must be corrupt, most spectacularly illustrated by the increasingly bizarre coverage of the Clinton Foundation.
Step back for a moment, and think about what that foundation is about. When Bill Clinton left office, he was a popular, globally respected figure. What should he have done with that reputation? Raising large sums for a charity that saves the lives of poor children sounds like a pretty reasonable, virtuous course of action. And the Clinton Foundation is, by all accounts, a big force for good in the world. For example, Charity Watch, an independent watchdog, gives it an “A” rating — better than the American Red Cross.
Now, any operation that raises and spends billions of dollars creates the potential for conflicts of interest. You could imagine the Clintons using the foundation as a slush fund to reward their friends, or, alternatively, Mrs. Clinton using her positions in public office to reward donors. So it was right and appropriate to investigate the foundation’s operations to see if there were any improper quid pro quos. As reporters like to say, the sheer size of the foundation “raises questions.”
But nobody seems willing to accept the answers to those questions, which are, very clearly, “no.”
Consider the big Associated Press report suggesting that Mrs. Clinton’s meetings with foundation donors while secretary of state indicate “her possible ethics challenges if elected president.” Given the tone of the report, you might have expected to read about meetings with, say, brutal foreign dictators or corporate fat cats facing indictment, followed by questionable actions on their behalf.
But the prime example The A.P. actually offered was of Mrs. Clinton meeting with Muhammad Yunus, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize who also happens to be a longtime personal friend. If that was the best the investigation could come up with, there was nothing there.
So I would urge journalists to ask whether they are reporting facts or simply engaging in innuendo, and urge the public to read with a critical eye. If reports about a candidate talk about how something “raises questions,” creates “shadows,” or anything similar, be aware that these are all too often weasel words used to create the impression of wrongdoing out of thin air.
And here’s a pro tip: the best ways to judge a candidate’s character are to look at what he or she has actually done, and what policies he or she is proposing. Mr. Trump’s record of bilking students, stiffing contractors and more is a good indicator of how he’d act as president; Mrs. Clinton’s speaking style and body language aren’t. George W. Bush’s policy lies gave me a much better handle on who he was than all the up-close-and-personal reporting of 2000, and the contrast between Mr. Trump’s policy incoherence and Mrs. Clinton’s carefulness speaks volumes today.
In other words, focus on the facts. America and the world can’t afford another election tipped by innuendo.