Donald Trump, false claims are still lies

Whether paralysed by fear of censure or retribution, the corporate media was reluctant to call him a liar.

RNC in Cleveland 2016
Trump isn't the first politician to lie about his many adversaries, political or otherwise, but he lies with such signature relish and impunity, writes Mitrovica [EPA]

Apparently, Donald Trump and Pinocchio are related … temperamentally speaking.

Arguably, Trump is less mature than the wooden toy boy. What the two cartoonish characters share undeniably, however, is a disagreeable habit of telling demonstrable lies.

Famously, when Pinocchio lies, his nose grows. Still, in the end, the insecure puppet, who yearns to become a real boy, has a life-altering epiphany. Lying, he understands, is futile and, ultimately, self-destructive.

Trump, the human manikin, appears incapable intellectually, perhaps even morally, of doing what Pinocchio belatedly does in Carlo Collodi’s timeless fable: that is grow up and stop lying.

Body of lies

Of course, Trump isn’t the first politician to lie about his many adversaries, political or otherwise. But Trump lies with such signature relish and impunity. All the while, his head, rather than his nose, swells as he basks in the notoriety and media-propelled attention generated by his blimp-sized lies.

Trump has lied about opposing the Iraq invasion. For years, he lied about Barrack Obama’s birthplace, promoting and giving eager sustenance to the racist myth that the United States’ first black president wasn’t born there and, as such, isn’t an American, nor eligible to be president.

The sinister intent of that sinister lie was to suggest, nudge-wink, that Obama’s presidency has been an illegitimate, eight-year-long, unconstitutional canard.

Even when he grudgingly, cryptically retracted that lie last week, Trump compounded the original lie with more lies. He lied when he said that Hillary Clinton was responsible for the noxious “birther” lie and that he, in effect, not only exposed her lie, but put it definitively to rest.

Through much of all the – at times – reality-defying chicanery, Trump’s lies went unchallenged by the US establishment media that too often and for too long was content to play the role of willing, enthusiastic courier to the B-list celebrity turned A list-Republican presidential nominee.

The pursuit of fairness, objectivity and balance has repeatedly meant not simply shading the truth, but burying it in a blizzard of weasel words.


Whether paralysed by fear of censure, retribution or exercising – yet again – a near universal deference towards authority, the corporate media has remained stubbornly reluctant to use that direct, one-syllable word lie in connection with Trump’s long-standing “bitherism” or his blatant revisionism about the Iraq invasion.

Instead, the Washington Post and other major US news organisations, preferred to use euphemistic symbols like little, cheery-looking drawings of Pinocchio to signify the nature and magnitude of the lies. The bigger the lie, the more Pinocchios it warranted.

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Meanwhile, many news reporters opted for carefully calibrated euphemisms like “falsehood” or “false claims” or the oxymoronic “stretching the truth” to presumably soften the blow of using a sharp, uncomfortable word like lie.

The pursuit of fairness, objectivity and balance has repeatedly meant not simply shading the truth, but burying it in a blizzard of weasel words.

The moment of epiphany

Then, like Pinocchio, the New York Times seemingly experienced an epiphany. Earlier this month, the newspaper ditched the euphemisms in a front-page headline and story about Trump’s stage-managed ad for a hotel masquerading as a mea culpa over his career-defining smear of Obama.

“Donald Trump Clung to ‘Birther’ Lie for Years, and Still isn’t Apologetic” the headline read. The accompanying story dissected Trump’s lies and assailed what it described as his “relentless deception”.

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The newspaper’s decision finally to call a lie a lie prompted other major corporate media to follow its laudable, if tardy, lead. Indeed, as if liberated from the straitjacket of euphemisms, the most powerful newspaper in the world has since published story after story about Trump and his rhetoric dotted with “lie”.

Times executive editor, Dean Baquet, has not only defended using “lie”, but now insists the newspaper will continue to use it when the truth demands it. “We have decided to be more direct in calling things out when a candidate actually lies,” Baquet said.

A tardy realisation

The shame and the irony is that The New York Times failed to adopt the same enlightened editorial attitude in the months and years leading up to the calamitous invasion of Iraq.

By its own admission, the newspaper allowed the thirst for ephemeral scoops to trump (pardon the pun) the truth. “Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more scepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper,” the newspaper wrote in a 2004 autopsy of its reporting prior to the invasion.

This failure to challenge and to be more sceptical of the official line and anonymous sources, was, with a few notable exceptions, endemic to US corporate media. The result, a flimsy case for war based on a litany of now infamous lies, was peddled by another set of politicians at a not so distant time.


One institutional response to this disreputable history has been the advent – particularly among US print media outlets – of a stable of so-called “fact-checkers”, who assess the veracity of statements, claims, charges and counter-charges made by politicians of various political persuasions.

While welcomed, the “fact-checkers” have appeared too preoccupied with shielding themselves from accusations of bias to speak plain, unambiguous truth to power. Hence, their grating penchant for euphemisms.

Hopefully, the sudden outbreak of unapologetic truth-telling will spread and embolden more reporters, editors and news organisations to call a lie a lie not only today, but also tomorrow – whether the lie is uttered by Trump or any other politician.

Andrew Mitrovica is an award-winning investigative reporter and journalism instructor.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.