By John Lott Jr • The Hill
President Trump’s half hour, impromptu interview on “Fox & Friends” last Friday sent the media’s fact checkers into overdrive this weekend. Everyone from PolitiFact to The New York Times to virtually all the Sunday morning national talk shows piled on, calling Trump a liar.
But the media can’t stop lying about what the president says. Sometimes it can’t distinguish a legitimate point of disagreement from a lie. It is no wonder that people have tuned out much of the constant attacks on Trump.
Just take the hyperbole on Sunday’s Meet the Press. Before playing a compilation of clips from Trump’s interview, moderator Chuck Todd exclaimed: “Let me put together this list of just outright misstatements, lies.” After showing the clips, Todd felt it necessary to emphasize yet again that everyone knew the statements were false: “Every single one of those things is absolutely not true.”
The show had on two liberal and two conservative panelists, but it wasn’t real balance as the conservatives were both “never Trumpers.” The guests debated whether Trump was simply lying or whether he lacked the “mental capacity” to know that he was spewing falsehoods.
So let’s review the first three statements that Todd claims are false. Then we’ll look at the one that he says is the “most ridiculous” of all.
Trump: “Well, no, there is no trade war.”
Whatever one thinks of tariffs or Trump’s negotiating strategy, the president’s tariff threats are more of a tiny skirmish than a full-blown “trade war.” In 2017, the US imported goods worth about $3.9 trillion. Only about $29 billion of those imports were in steel, and the aluminum imports that will face tariffs were $14 billion. This amounts to $43 billion in imports of these two goods. $18 billion (41 percent) of that total came from China.
Friday’s announcement of $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese electronics is more significant, but still a tiny fraction of our overall goods trade. These tariffs don’t affect 98 percent of all imports. Eighty-seven percent of imports from China are unaffected. The average tariff rate on all imported goods will rise from 1.4 percent to just over 2 percent. The U.S. has among the lowest tariff rates in the world, and this will hold true even if the threatened increases go into effect.
To put in perspective how small this increase is, the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff raised the average tariff on imported goods from 13.5 percent in 1929 to 19.8 percent in 1933.
This isn’t a defense of tariffs. It just brings some perspective to the overheated language.
Trump: “I think that the [inspector general] report yesterday, maybe more importantly than anything, it totally exonerates me.”
“The [inspector general] report was, of course, not about that,” Todd asserts. But it takes a real effort not to see the connection between the investigation into Trump and the one into Hillary Clinton. Bringing an obstruction of justice charge against Trump is a legally uphill battle, but special counsel Robert Mueller may still try two possible ways to do it. He can either attempt to show that Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey in order to stop the investigation or try to show that the president dissuaded Comey from investigating possible Russian connections. Both approaches depend crucially on Comey’s credibility.
The Washington Post called the report “a blistering rebuke of Comey.” Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt said the inspector general’s report showed “James Comey is ruined.” Mueller is now going to have a harder time arguing that Trump wasn’t justified in firing Comey, whose credibility is in such tatters that it will be difficult to use his notes on meetings with Trump as the basis for any charges.
The report also clearly shows severe bias by the FBI agent initially overseeing Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s campaign. In an exchange of text messages, Peter Strzok assures FBI attorney Lisa Page “we’ll stop” Donald Trump from becoming president. It surely provides context for Strzok’s subsequent text messages about the need for an “insurance” policy against Trump.
Trump: “Some people say he lied, and some people say he didn’t lie. I mean, really, it turned out maybe he didn’t lie.”
Chuck Todd claimed that this was false. “The president himself said Michael Flynn lied and that’s why he fired him.” But there are two different matters here, and the president was referring to Robert Mueller’s charge that Flynn had lied to the FBI, not to Flynn’s misleading of Vice President Pence. The FBI agents who interviewed Flynn thought he was telling the truth, but Mueller disregarded the views of the agents on the scene and pressed criminal charges.
Trump: “President Obama lost Crimea, just so you understand.”
Todd thinks that this was Trump’s “most ridiculous” statement in the “Fox & Friends” interview. But we can all agree that Crimea was taken over by the Russians on Obama’s watch. It’s at least open for debate that Obama might have been able to do something to stop the Russians. He may, for instance, have provided anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainians.
From allegations of racism after Trump’s balanced remarks on the Charlottesville race riots, to running a 2014 picture of illegal immigrant children in steel cages as though it had been taken during Trump’s watch, the media keeps blatantly misrepresenting what Trump has said and done. Do people in the media do this because they don’t have the “mental capacity” to know that what they are saying is false, or are they simply lying? It doesn’t make much difference, for the damage to the media’s credibility and the country’s political system is the same in either case.