Reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday.
No truer words have been spoken within the Trump White House than those of Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Dec. 11. Sanders thought she was referring to reporters when she said:
“You cannot say that it’s an honest mistake when you’re purposefully putting out information that you know to be false or when you’re taking information that hasn’t been validated, that hasn’t been offered any credibility, and that has been continually denied by a number of people, including people with direct knowledge of an incident.”
A reporter in the White House press room responded, “Are you speaking about the president?”
From Inauguration Day to July 21, the president averaged at least one verifiable public lie for every three days he served in office. His rate dropped to one every 7.5 days from July 21 until Monday, according to statistics compiled by PolitiFact and The New York Times. The drop in the second half of the year could be attributable to John Kelly’s arrival as chief of staff. The retired general came to the job intent on limiting the president’s access to rumors, innuendo and unverifiable reports from pseudo-news sources.
Kelly got rid of senior aides known to be feeding Trump blatantly false information. But the truth wars continue unabated. Sanders’ critique Monday referred to erroneous reports that were corrected, sometimes with apologies and disciplinary action, by the news organizations that published or broadcast them. Trump doesn’t apologize or correct his factual errors.
When the news media calls him out, he typically labels the truth-tellers as “fake news.”
Sanders has little patience for reporters who ask the White House to correct the record. A typical response was her June 8 retort about suggestions by former FBI Director James Comey that the president had lied to him: “I can definitively say the president is not a liar. I think it’s, frankly, insulting that that question would be asked.”
Sanders and her predecessor, Sean Spicer, also have wiggled out of tough questions by responding that “the president has been very clear” on whatever the issue is, so it’s time to move on. Sanders is renowned for rolling her eyes and saying, “I think I just answered that,” even when she’s done no such thing.
This is how the White House avoids addressing its most uncomfortable truths — that the president cannot be trusted to be honest, whether it’s the size of attendance at his inauguration or the video he retweeted of a supposed “Muslim migrant” beating up a Dutch boy (the attacker was neither a Muslim nor a migrant).
These are not honest mistakes. A White House that distributes false information and refuses to correct the record has no business pointing the finger at professionals dedicated to the truth.