The Times’ Timothy Egan Doesn’t Get It: Hillary Lies, Trump Just Has No Respect For Facts


In a Sunday Times op-ed called Lord of the Lies, Timothy Egan argues that Donald Trump, and apparently only Donald Trump, should be fact-checked live in any Presidential debates. Egan is adopting the current fad among journalists, which is the argument that Trump is so bad, the media should apply a double standard, making sure his misrepresentations are immediately debunked, while presumably allowing Hillary to continue to issue whoppers every time she talks about Benghazi, her State e-mails, the Clinton Foundation, her record as a champion for victims of sexual assault, etc.

I already pointed out how unethical it was for CNN to employ an  on-screen fact-check of a Trump speech ( “Trump: I never said Japan should have nukes (he did).” ) especially since they will never do the same to Hillary (“Hillary:I never sent e-mails marked classified (She did…)”)  Egan thought CNN’s intrusion was just peachy, though, because the news media now believes their task isn’t to be fair to both candidates and treat them the same, but to employ any means necessary to defeat that one journalists have determined shouldn’t win.

A larger problem with Egan’s thesis—even more than his apparent belief that the notoriously biased PolitiFact is “non-partisan”)—is that he doesn’t know what a lie is. He adopts the flat-out wrong definition of lie used by most fact-checkers in fact: if they disagree with a statement or can show it is untrue, it’s a lie. That’s not what makes a statement a lie. For example, PolitiFact is demonstrably biased and Democratic-leaning, far more so than the Washington Post’s Factchecker or Fact But I wouldn’t assume that Egan is lying when he says otherwise. Progressive journalists just assume PolitiFact is fair and non-partisan because they think they are fair and non-partisan. They are deluded, not lying. That’s an important distinction.

Hillary Clinton lies. As with her e-mail saga, she goes into a room with aides and works out deceptive statements that she hopes will convince casual listeners, partisans and those she has corrupted that what she says really excuses her conduct. She then adjusts her cover-stories to respond to new revelations that make the previous statements untenable. First she says her private server was approved. Then, when the IG states that his investigation indicates it wasn’t approved, her new story is that she assumed it had been approved. This is a liar at work.

Trump, in contrast, just says stuff. Egan cites many examples that he calls lies when what Trump says was obviously untrue. He cites the fact that Washington Post’s Fact Checker has given Trump 30 of its Four Pinocchio ratings as showing that Trump was” lying 70 percent of the time.” Wrong (though Egan isn’t lying). Trump was stating things that were false 70% of the times examined by the Post, but that doesn’t mean he knew they were false. For example, Trump has said many times that he opposed the Iraq war “from the beginning.” When a tape was produced of his telling Howard Stern  that it was “probably” right to invade Iraq, Trump shrugged it off  with “Whatever.” He didn’t think what he said on a shock-jock radio show counts. That’s stupid, but it isn’t dishonest.

Trump may have lied in some of these cases, but it is impossible to tell when. He just says what pops into his head. He doesn’t prepare; he doesn’t study. He just wings it. Egan cannot fathom this concept, which is basic to ethical analysis. Egan believes every misstatement or wrongly stated fact is a “lie.” Like here:

“It was that class-action lawsuit that got Trump into his present caldron of lies — calling the Indiana-born judge in the case a “Mexican.” By that standard, Trump is a German, with a grandfather from Kallstadt. Some of Trump’s lies are the everyday speech of a charlatan — trade talk. At a bizarre news conference in March, he called Trump Winery “the largest winery on the East Coast.” Not even close, according to PolitiFact. Last month he said he had more employees in New Jersey “than almost anybody.” Not a chance.”

Does anyone really think Trump was trying to deceive anyone when he called a Mexican-American judge a “Mexican”? It was shorthand from a sloppy thinking, sloppy speaker. We know this. Was Trump consciously trying to deceive anyone when he hyped up his winery, or said he had more employees in New Jersey than “almost” anybody? If you are certain this is lying, you don’t know what a lie is….like Egan.

A lie is a statement designed to deceive.That’s what Hillary Clinton does—design statements to deceive us. Trump, in contrast, speaks in generalities and off-hand guesses, and selectively describes reality the way he wants to see it at any given time. That’s not a good thing in a leader; in fact, it’s terrifying. It is not, however, the same as lying.

Thomas Egan just argued that Donald Trump should be treated differently than Hillary Clinton by the news media because he lies even more than she does…and the Times published this screed, despite the fact that Egan, in a column about lying, demonstrated that he doesn’t know what lying is.



37 thoughts on “The Times’ Timothy Egan Doesn’t Get It: Hillary Lies, Trump Just Has No Respect For Facts

  1. I think Trump is constantly engaged in what the law would consider “sales puffery.” Certainly the FTC would: The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defined puffery as a “term frequently used to denote the exaggerations reasonably to be expected of a seller as to the degree of quality of his product, the truth or falsity of which cannot be precisely determined.”

    The man is a huckster, a snake oil salesman in the great American tradition. He’s all blather all the time. Nothing he says can be taken seriously. He’s just trying to make a sale.

    As you say, HRC and her minions are professional, calculating, industrial scale falsehood producers from the tradition of Machiavelli. Tres continental.

    • Yet Jack is so deep into Trump Derangement Syndrome that for some reason, he’d rather have Hillary in the Oval Office.

      Maybe I ought to go through his rationalizations list and see how many he uses to justify voting for Hillary…

      • I think his observations are valid. They’re less about the relative merits of the two nominees than the wilful incompetence of the media. I fear HRC’s simply the lesser of two evils. I don’t think making such a choice requires a rationalization. Voting for HRC and not The Donald strikes me as completely ethical. Why would you vote for the functional equivalent of an ill-behaved sixth grader?

        • Christopher C. Morton, my longtime Usenet ally, explains it.

          I have literally NO IDEA what Trump is going to do… and likely HE doesn’t EITHER.

          I know EXACTLY what Clinton will do. Hell, she’s spent the last couple of years TELLING me.

          If you bring a pit bull into your house, you don’t know what it’s going to do.

          If you bring a Komodo dragon into your house, you know EXACTLY what it’s going to do.

          In this election, I have a choice between a buffoon and a monster.

          Right about now, the buffoon’s looking like the safer bet…

          Chris also posts on and under the screen name deanimator

          • To think there is some upside potential to The Donald is very tempting, no doubt. He may have a better learning curve than that of our current president. Of course, one could say that of a low grade artichoke as well.

          • Lordy me..what would become of the GOP without the constant Hillary scape goating. She’s done, she’s over,she lost. While a registered Democrat i have been a life-long student of the conservative policy & politics.
            I think we should worry more about the death of the GOP. DJT ruins most everything he touches.

            • Zaks..con’t
              DJT shares little or nothing in common with our previous Republican presidents (maybe Warren Harding was a kindred spirit). Bush.1 served honorably, Bush.2 grew up by the 2nd term. Nixon opened the door to China, was a thiroughly negotiatir &statesman, established the EPA & was the first to suggest a national health care plan. And then there was Ike, who managed to win WWII tigether with the Brits. Tell me..educate me,what does DJT share in common with Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt? Hoover didnt do so well but contributed honorably nonetheless. Ethical culture is so important, but our president appears not to know the meaning of the
              phrase. As for the media perhaps the smart thing for us to do is reject hyperbolic, hysteria laden reporting. Anyway once The News had to start making money for their masters, reporting the newz has become
              well..very gassy

              • You’re waaaaay over your head in alleged Presidential history. (I’m not. It’s one of my fields.)

                Many Presidents, including some of the most successful ones, have little “in common” with others on the list, nor is Presidential success measured by how similar one is to another. (What a silly standard!) Jackson, Lincoln and Teddy were as unique and unlike their predecessors as Trump is—more, perhaps. Trump is using a lot of Jackson’s playbook, and quite a bit of Teddy’s. His effect on the culture and political climate is absolutely corrosive, but in that he’s similar to Obama and Clinton. So far he has kept the economy thriving (as he promised), reduced regulations, pulled out of two terrible deals made by his predecessor, stood by Israel as it was under fire, overseen a strong effort against ISIS, appointed conservative judges, opened dialogue with North Korea, taken action against China’s trade cheating (which Obama refused to do), and stood for the rule of law in immigration against cynical efforts by Democrats to encourage open borders. That’s more than most Presidents accomplished in their first terms. Denial isn’t an argument.

            • If you are really a student of anything, you know how biased and counter-factual that last sentence reads. As for “Hillary scape-goating,” this is another example of blatant projection. Hillary refused to do what she reprimanded Trump for saying he might not do, in his typical trolling. She refused to accept the election result, blamed everyone but herself, and has continued to prime the “resistance” by being the worst presidential loser in history. She’s led Democrats down a suicidal path that will probably result in losing the House and getting Trump elected again. Until she retires from public life and stops blaming the world for her failures, she deserves every bit of criticism she continues to get.

            • Lordy me..what would become of the GOP without the constant Hillary scape goating.

              You realize you are replying to a comment written in 2016, right?

              Who was running for President in 2016?

  2. “…her new story is that she assumed it had been approved.”

    Her campaign FAQ, in answer to “Was It Allowed?” still emphatically states, “Yes. The laws, regulations, and State Department policy in place during her tenure permitted her to use a non-government email for work.” The second sentence remains a twisting of the truth, but in the face of the OIG report the “Yes” is a bald-faced lie at this point.

    The FAQ is a remarkable document:

    It’s 4,000 words long – three times as long as the Declaration of Independence – but if you parse and remove the Clintonese it nearly disappears. This is everything in it that I have not been able to determine has been twisted:

    “The Secretary’s office was located in a secure area.”

    When I read it, I always hear Bill’s voice saying, “It’s called ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ – it don’t matter what answers we put down!”

    • …and having worked in government IT for over a decade, including on systems that are designed to store and process classified data, I can tell you that the answer to “Was it allowed?” is not only NO, but FUCK NO.

      Even 100% unclassified systems have long laundry lists of standards and recommended settings that must be met–or be signed off on by a suitable security official due to an operational requirement*–and those systems are reviewed every 3-5 years for compliance.

      The funny thing is: As Secretary of State, she would have been in a position to sign the waiver for operational requirements. So why didn’t she?


      * For example: A rule that prohibits cameras being attached to systems would be waived for specific machines that have document scanners attached, because that machine’s purpose is to host the scanner.

      • Dwayne: Why don’t you write your comments as a letter to the editor of The Washington Post or New York Times. Or at the least, in the Post, for the “Free for All” Section. It would be awfully nice to get some unvarnished facts out there from someone who’s worked in the system and is not co-opted by the Hillary machine.

  3. Given the scale of Trump’s mendacity and the stakes for the free world, it’s time that we go into the fall debates with a new rule — an instant fact-check on statements made by the candidates onstage.

    He plainly stated that both candidates should be fact checked live.

    What evidence do you have that he only wants this to apply to Donald Trump?

    • Because Trump is the only candidate he talks about, and because trump is the only candidate this has been tried on (by CNN)…and because the news media is awash with “Let’s get Trump” journalist screeds.

      I’ll believe there’s no double standard when I see evidence. All the evidence so far is in the other direction.

  4. I have to say, I think it is extremely disingenuous to say Trump is not lying when he’s, well, lying. I could say I have the biggest house on the street, but if it’s not the biggest house on the street and I KNOW it’s not the biggest house on the street, how is that not lying? That’s essentially what Trump did in your inset winery example.

    You say “Trump may have lied in some of these cases, but it is impossible to tell when.” Why is it impossible to tell when he’s lying if what he just said was not the truth and he knew even while saying it that it was not the truth?

    • I think I was clear. He just says stuff, as it pops into his head. At the moment he says it, he believes it. He has no respect for facts. Being wrong, reckless with facts and using dumb generalities isn’t lying. Don’t tell me I’m disingenuous…I sure as hell m not lying. When Trump said Obama may not have been born here, he almost certainly believed it. Saying something false isn’t lying. You really think Trump studied the relative size of wineries? Do you think he cares? He has a big winery, so he says it’s the biggest. When a child says “I have the smartest dad”, is he lying? When he says, “My dog is the fastest dog in the world, is he lying? Has he done the research? Trump.Is.A.Child. It’s obvious.

      It has been obvious. “He lies because he lies”—brilliant. In my field, one has to be more exacting than that. Saying something false isn’t a lie without knowledge and intent. Trump usually lacks one, the other, or both.

      • I find it difficult to believe you can see into his mind to know that he is lacking knowledge and intent. How do you support that conclusion?

        If he is a child to the extent that you say, then that perforce means he is developmentally challenged to such a degree that he couldn’t possibly have graduated from college, among other things.

        • ‘I find it difficult to believe you can see into his mind to know that he is lacking knowledge and intent. How do you support that conclusion?’

          How do you know that he has that knowledge and lies anyway? These are both unfalsifiable positions, the difference is that Jack’s seems to explain some of Trump’s mangled talking points, where yours just feels like anti-Trump vitriol. ‘It’s obvious he’s lying because what he’s saying isn’t true.’ is a ridiculously low bar.

          ‘If he is a child to the extent that you say, then that perforce means he is developmentally challenged to such a degree that he couldn’t possibly have graduated from college, among other things.’

          Demonstrably untrue. Being childish, naive, social awkward, or autistic on almost any point in the spectrum doesn’t preclude you from holding post-secondary education, especially when you’re wealthy enough to pay for it outright.

          • My thought here is that absent absolute proof that someone’s lies are told lacking knowledge or intent – especially in the case of lies so egregious that anyone with an IQ above average, (as Trump states his is, and I don’t doubt he’s intelligent) must know they are untrue – the default should be to believe that lies told are told with intent to lie. How else can we judge lies or truth? Giving him a pass because he didn’t mean to lie is either looking into his soul, or giving him the benefit of the doubt, for some reason. If you’re giving the benefit of the doubt, I think it should probably apply equally to every case, not to him because he’s somehow special. I’m not sure the reasoning for giving him a pass on lying.

            And childish, naive, awkward? You’re really not helping the case for Trump’s candidacy here, and yes, I get that that is not your intent. However, if you’re protesting that **Trump** is childish, naive, awkward or on the Autism spectrum, (again, I’m not sure you’re making that statement, since you’re only responding to my question about his academic past) I would still say that those traits don’t mean you don’t know when you’re lying. And for those who write him off as a ‘just’ bullshitter, I’ve known many a bullshitter in my time, and my sense always was that they knew what they were saying wasn’t true, but their motives for saying it were so strong they didn’t care about lying.

            I really have no ax to grind here; I’m Canadian. I do find Trump appalling as a candidate for many reasons. Nothing I’ve read so far changes that.

            • “Giving him a pass because he didn’t mean to lie is either looking into his soul, or giving him the benefit of the doubt, for some reason.”

              I don’t think anyone suggested he get a pass, just that we correctly identify (as best we can) what’s going on. Being as thoughtless as he is is almost more damning than the calculated cunning exhibited by Clinton, when you consider the level of responsibility inherent in the office of the POTUS. What’s better: being a liar, or being an idiot, when your finger is on the button?

              “I’m not sure the reasoning for giving him a pass on lying.”

              You still haven’t proven that he HAS lied, only that he has said things that aren’t true. The difference is mens rea.

              “I’ve known many a bullshitter in my time, and my sense always was that they knew what they were saying wasn’t true, but their motives for saying it were so strong they didn’t care about lying.”

              See… So follow that line of thinking: Motive. What motive does he have to say these things? There are instances of him contradicting himself in the same sentence. There IS no motive to make these lies.

              “I really have no ax to grind here; I’m Canadian. I do find Trump appalling as a candidate for many reasons. Nothing I’ve read so far changes that.”

              I’m just outside of Winnipeg, myself. I find Trump appalling, but perhaps for different reasons. I just think that it’s important that if we’re going to criticise someone… anyone… We at least criticise them for the right thing. In theory, the criticism is supposed to change behaviours, if we as critics aren’t clear on the behaviour we find wanting, we can’t really get angry if the message isn’t received clearly.

              • “There are instances of him contradicting himself in the same sentence. There IS no motive to make these lies. ”

                This statement is interesting to me. Having observed videotaped interviews of many suspected of crimes, it’s surprising how, with great motive to convince the interviewer that they are telling the truth, suspects not only lie, but do often contradict themselves within the same interview. Liars can’t remember what lie they told, so the contradiction is a case of tailoring the lie to the need, or just poor memory. Self-contradiction or poor memory doesn’t mean they’re not lying.

                Interesting discussion.

  5. So our choice comes down to a known and proven evil, or the unknown of an ignorant pre-adolescent? I think I’m going to buy a few thousand survival meals, go off the grid, and hide.

  6. You are right Jack. Technically Trump is not lying for the very reasons you have cited. And everyone’s facts should be checked. However, in this case, Hillary is definitely the lesser of the evils, and thanks to the idiocy? insanity? of Trump, she is the lesser by a long shot.

    • Non sequitur. See, in ethics, we flag unethical conduct, and the fact that one individual may be despicable in other respects doesn’t and shouldn’t affect the judgment. The post wasn’t about who is more unethical. It was about incorrectly diagnosing what a lie is. You are saying that it is OK to mislead others about whether Trump is lying, because Trump is generally worse that Hillary. That’s pure rationalization. The blog exists to help you break that habit.

  7. Trump can’t even admit to himself that he is bald and so does a bad comb over when he could totally afford hair transplants. “To thine own self be true” and if you can’t even be true to yourself, you cannot hope to be true to anyone else and Trump can’t even be honest with himself about his embarrassing hair do.

  8. I’m going to disagree with you here regarding the definition of a lie. A lie is not a “statement meant to decieve”. Well, lies generally are, but that’s not what a lie *is*.

    A lie is a statement which deliberately represents reality as other than what the liar believes it is. Intent doesn’t enter into it.

    That said, I don’t generally believe that Trump is a serial liar in the sense that Hillary is. I believe that he’s a serial bullshitter.

    “Bullshit,” believe it or not, is a technical term in the formal philosophy of truth, derived in its modern meaning from a 1986 essay (which has been republished several times since) by a philosopher named Frankfurt. In it, he divides communicative conduct into three categories: Telling the truth, in which you represent reality as you believe it to be; lying, in which you represent reality as other than what you believe it to be; and bullshitting, in which you represent reality without caring about what the reality is.

    This is why I believe Trump is worse in that regard than Hillary. As Frankfurt put it:

    “Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite
    sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

    I do strongly recommend the essay. It provides a tremendous number of insights into the entire phenomenon… and is just plain amusing, too.

    • 1986. Post-modernism. Deconstruction. Bad intellectual era. A liar is worse than a bullshitter. You can see bullshitters coming from a long way off. Liars use smoke screens and camouflage. One could ask of HRC, “Is that you, ahem, or just a brilliant disguise?” With The Trumpster, there’s no there there to uncover.

    • “A lie is a statement which deliberately represents reality as other than what the liar believes it is. Intent doesn’t enter into it.”

      Pop Quiz: Where is the internal contradiction in this statement?

      • Perhaps I should have said “purpose”. What doesn’t enter into it is *why* you’re misrepresenting reality. I included the word “deliberately” to exclude things like verbal slips, errors, and misstatements.

        • This from the wiki page of Frankfurt’s book: “[T]he bullshitter is someone whose principal aim—when uttering or publishing bullshit—is to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression that something is being or has been done, words that are neither true nor false, and so obscure the facts of the matter being discussed. In contrast, the liar must know the truth of the matter under discussion, in order to better conceal it from the listener or the reader being deceived with a lie; while the bullshitter’s sole concern is personal advancement and advantage to their own agenda.”

          Which sounds like what Jack was saying. How Frankfurt gets to the conclusion that bullshitters are worse than liars is a mystery to me. I’d take the other side of that statement in a debate.

          • Considering that the entire text of the essay is available online if you search for it (and on the first page of Google results for “On Bullshit”), you shouldn’t need to speculate on the reasoning even if I hadn’t quoted one of the more bluntly relevant passages. You also shouldn’t focus on Wikipedia, as its summary is… questionable, focusing on a point that’s at best grossly oversimplified. While he does spend a bit discussing reasons why people would bullshit, he doesn’t make blanket claims of that sort.

            That said, the paragraph after that quote makes the point even more bluntly clear:

            “One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The
            second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything except bullshit.”

            Then there’s the last three paragraphs, which get into even more detail. His reasoning’s hardly opaque.

            That said, your summary — that he argues that bullshitters are worse than liars — is, again, at the very least greatly oversimplified. What argues is that bullshit is more opposed to the truth than lies are. I’d argue that Trump is more dishonest than Clinton as a result: Clinton at least knows and cares what the facts are before she misrepresents them. Trump’s “truth” is guided only by his ego.

            • I’m not troubled by this conclusion, but Egan furthers the intentional blurring of “mistaken” and “Lying,” and I can’t let that pass. Bush did not LIE about believing there were WMDs in Iraq. When politically convenient, pundits and partisans (and fact-checkers) call errors and mistakes lies. They just aren’t. A bull-shitter who believes what he says when he says it IS more dangerous than a liar sometimes. He’s still not a liar.

  9. Always pleased when the great James Taranto agrees with me, even when it takes him three days…speaking of Egan’s screed, he says..

    “Is he serious? There’s no hint of irony anywhere in Egan’s column, but the idea is so comical on so many levels that it’s hard to be sure. The purpose of debate rules is to give both (or all) participants a fair opportunity to make their case to the public; Egan expressly wishes for the debate organizers to interpose themselves as an authority in order to give his favored candidate (who, he grudgingly acknowledges, “is not exactly known for fealty to the facts”) an advantage.

    Even better, Egan’s “truth referee” would use as its standard the “truth” found on . . . the Internet! One wonders if he is familiar with the classic 2002 Onion headline “Factual Error Found on Internet.” It’s funny because it’s true (and exquisitely understated).

    An additional irony is that Egan’s column appears in a newspaper that itself can fairly be characterized, in the institutional voice of its editorial board, as a pathological liar”

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