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Why The Press Shouldn’t Believe Anything The White House Tells Them

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Why The Press Shouldn’t Believe Anything The White House Tells Them

Sean Spicer, White House, Lies

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

Sitting down for his first presidential phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart “vowed to repair relations between the countries,” during a “warm” hour-long discussion, The New York Times reported.

The two men promised “to join forces to fight terrorism in Syria and elsewhere, according to the White House and the Kremlin,” noted The Washington Post, and the confab was “positive,” according to a White House statement quoted by NBC News.

Reuters agreed: “Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to try to rebuild U.S. Russia ties and to cooperate in Syria, the Kremlin said on Saturday.”

Virtually all the coverage of the Putin-Trump phone call was identical and had the same feel-good vibe, because the information about the call all came from the same two sources: a statement released by the White House, and one put out by the Kremlin. (“The chat took place in a positive and business-like tone.”)

Noticeably absent from the phone call? According to the White House, Putin and Trump did not talk about U.S. sanctions currently in place against Russia and whether Trump will lift them, even over objection from members of his own party. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus “refused to say whether” there was discussion during the call of U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia made a concerted effort to influence the November election in favor of Trump. The White House and Kremlin accounts suggest they never talked about news that two Russian intelligence officers who had worked on cyber-operations had been arrested on treason charges, in a move that some observers think may be related to Russia’s attempts to influence the U.S. election, or that there was any discussion of allegations that Russian operatives “claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.”

Instead, there wasn’t even a hint of discord between the two leaders, according to the press reports. And maybe there wasn’t any. But again, journalists received all their call information from aides who crafted public statements, which reporters then typed up as fact.

That in and of itself is not unusual. Reporters have routinely relied on the White House to release information about diplomatic calls and other commonplace events not witnessed by journalists. It represents a fairly routine interaction between the two sides.

But we’re in a new, drastically more dishonest era now, and it’s time for reporters to question even the most customary communications released by the White House, or background information offered up by aides.

As Dan Pfieffer, a former senior advisor to President Obama, suggested:

This shift represents another way the press needs to rip up the old rules for covering the White House, simply because we’ve never had a White House staffed with so many dishonest people embracing “alternative facts”; dishonest people whose fabrications are easily and quickly disproven. (Even regarding statistics.)

The problem isn’t just Trump. During his first week serving as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer became well known for the lies he told on behalf of his boss.

The reporting on the Putin-Trump phone call might seem like a small matter, but the context looms large: Even the most pedestrian interactions between the White House and the press are now open to suspicion. And it’s time to retire the idea that just because a White House statement asserts a fact, that reporters ought to relay it as one.

For instance, here’s how NBC News reported on the phone Putin-Trump phone call:

The approximately hour-long call was described as “positive” and “a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair,” The White House said in a statement.

A more accurate wording would have been this (emphasis added):

The approximately hour-long call was described as “positive” and “a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair,” The White House claimed in a statement.

It may seem minor, but it represents an important signal for the press to send Trump and his team, that after less than two weeks in office they have done very little to prove that they can regularly tell the truth about much of anything. What we’re seeing isn’t the traditional dance between the White House and the press, where aides spin on behalf of their boss and reporters parse out the truth. Instead, we’re seeing a non-stop attempt to steamroll — to gaslight — the press.

And here’s what was telling. The same day the Times relied on a White House statement to give the paper details about the Putin-Trump call, details that the Times then presented as fact to its readers, the paper ran a front-page story that basically detailed Trump’s long-time habit of lying about everything, all the time:

[T]he mystifying false statements about seemingly trivial details, the rewriting of history to airbrush unwanted facts, the branding as liars those who point out his untruths, the deft conversion of demonstrably false claims into a semantic mush of unverifiable “beliefs.”

So if newsrooms understand that falsehoods are the currency that Trump and his White House aides trade in each day, then reporters should stop treating unconfirmed claims from the White House as fact. Even when the supposed facts revolve around everyday matters like diplomatic phone calls.

IMAGE: White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque



  1. Dominick Vila February 1, 2017

    Why should people trust and believe a man who seeks advice to change the name of a Muslim ban to something more in line with the tenets of our Constitution and values, calls it a ban after he rolls the deceiving policy, and then bans the use of the term ban that he used repeatedly?

    1. Theodora30 February 2, 2017

      Why should people trust any Republican operative? We should never forget Karl Rove made it clear they disdain liberals for living in the reality based world while Republicans are busy creating their own reality. This has been going on for years. The difference now is that Trump doesn’t even try to finesses his lies, he is just blatant about it. Sadly for far too many Americans this dishonesty has been normalized.

    1. ray February 1, 2017

      fuk you

      1. latebloomingrandma February 2, 2017

        Help! The smell of sulfar is pouring out of my computer.

    2. Independent1 February 1, 2017

      You’ve got the wrong avatar – this is what it should be:


      You’re as outright evil as this avatar suggests!!!

  2. ray February 1, 2017

    Trump probably Gave Putin the green light to invade Ukraine.

    1. 1standlastword February 1, 2017

      The light for sure turned green with Trump’s election because today the fighting has escalated with the Pro Russian war machine on the offense!

  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth February 1, 2017

    From just a few clips of nonsense put out by Spicer one can see he has picked up “The Art of Obfuscation And Outright Lying” from the master himself, Donald J. Trump.
    Spicer has the unenviable job of cleaning up behind Trump since Donald is already in Deception Autopilot Mode. But Spicer so far just reiterates the lies and/or mistakes of Donald, using the play-on-words technique to pacify and deceive Trump’s supporters into thinking that what they heard they didn’t hear. That works well on the weak-minded, but comes across immediately as a messy clean-up to others.

  4. 1standlastword February 1, 2017

    I’m convinced that before the republicans allow Trump to destroy their party and bring our Republic down they will find a way to impeach him.

    I just read Garry Kasparov’s “Winter is Coming”. The book details a history of Putin’s United Russia and it is blood curdling!!!!

    One of the most despicable facts is the west has consistently maintained an approach of appeasement with the Mafia Don V. Putin and that has allowed him cover to function as a member of a democratic freeworld society when in truth he is without doubt an autocratic authoritarian murderous corrupt dictator, who violates the Russian constitution to sustain his gorilla hold on power and his office.

    Kasparov states Russia under Putin exports terror, oil, WMD and corruption…Russian has been consistently on the supply side to all the trouble makers in and out of the region: China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela; and any where else where the principles of democracy don’t apply.

    Putin and his oligarchs are a brood of vipers and only they stand to benefit from the lifting of sanctions. I can imagine a RICO violation in Trump’s future if there is a congressional investigation: Can you imagine Trump laundering money for the mob at home and in Russia. Would his tax returns give some insight into that kind of activity? He should be careful who he betrays in the U.S. Senate and Congress. And do you think the pusillanimous democrats would have the cojones to go after him the way the republicans went after Bill Clinton?

  5. Daniel Jones February 1, 2017

    I actually call that butter-wouldn’t-melt jerk Gene Splicer as any story he tells is a patchwork abomination, not the living truth.

  6. Dominick Vila February 2, 2017

    As bad as Trump’s and Spicer’s lies are, I am more disturbed by the clear attempts to suppress the news, punish media outlets or journalists that criticize or dare question Donald’s assertions or policies, than the fact that Trump and Spicer continuously lie, contradict themselves, or engage in hyperbole worthy of an elementary school child. Something else that bothers me involves what is being covered, and what is being ignored. Why was Donald Tusk’s statement about Trump being a threat to the EU played down or ignored. EU member countries are our closest allies and trading partners, and we are ignoring their concerns, and overt fear of Trump policies and Bannon’s machinations. Amazing! http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/31/politics/european-union-trump/index.html

  7. Mama Bear February 2, 2017

    Who in their right mind would believe anything from these people? PERIOD. If someone enumerated all the outright lies and distortions they have told it might fill a book. Eleanor….your next book! Do it, girl.

  8. FireBaron February 2, 2017

    Here’s an update to Mark Twain’s old saw – “There are lies, damned lies and Sean Spicer White House briefs.”

  9. jointerjohn February 2, 2017

    Sean Spicer is such a constant liar he has to hire another guy to call his dog for him.
    Trouble is, millions of Americans prefer lies. Global warming isn’t real, Obama is a Muslim, the earth of only six thousand years old, gay people are child molesters, and trickle-down economics works. Every one of these things has been proven wrong, yet sworn to be true by millions of delusional Americans who have decided the truth can be whatever they wish it to be. We, the grown-ups, have allowed these children among us too much freedom to play pretend and we need to shoulder our responsibility once more and lead.


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