More On The Atlantic’s Big Lie

The news media and politicians keep using the Big Lie tactic because, sadly, it works.

One reason such lies work is that, unfortunately, people just aren’t, on average, very smart or attentive. The Atlantic Monthly’s two-year old “scoop” that the President had denigrated American servicemen during a trip abroad according to four “officials” who nonetheless didn’t have the integrity or courage to take responsibility for their story was self-evidently a pro-Biden smear job, identifiable both by its timing and its journalistic inadequacies. It arrived when there was legitimate news that was favorable to the President, yet the phony story received most of the ink and air time, even from Fox News and the conservative media, the latter of which discussed the rottenness of the tactic rather than its substance.

As Big Lies go—this was a micro-Big Lie, other than the recurring and still surfacing  macro-Big Lies that have served as the foundation of the relentless anti-Trump assault since the 2016 election—this one was rather well constructed, being based as it was on one of Trump’s stupidest and most damaging utterances, his campaign swipe at  John McCain and Vietnam prisoners of war. It was not a sub-Big Lie, relying on one of the Big Nine, because, after all, this one draws its strength from a fact: the President is an asshole, and unlike other recent asshole Presidents like Obama and Clinton, he doesn’t even try to hide it.

Nonetheless, the fact that a well-proven anti-Trump organ published this just as the riots were starting to take their toll on Joe Biden’s hate-fueled support and had to use anonymous sources to create it was, or should have been, plenty to allow even the semi-dim among the public to discern what was going on. Then came the multiple claims that Fox News and others had “confirmed” the story, which, of course, they hadn’t. This was incompetent and embarrassing, and it was immediately obvious to me, as it should have been for anyone with a modicum of education and two brain cells to rub together. I saw the “confirmation” report right after completing the September 4 post about news media disinformation, and wrote,

Fox saying it “corroborated” what Trump said is flat out false. If someone tells NBC I’m an anteater, and I deny it, then ABC talks to the same lunatic who says I’m an anteater and he repeats his accusation, did ABC corroborate that I’m an anteater?

Yet, incredibly—yes, after all this time, I still find the the lack of basic critical thinking skills among so much of the public hard to believe–a lot of people couldn’t see this. I know it sounds arrogant, but I have to regard this episode as either an IQ test or a corruption test: if you don’t see what’s going on, either you’re not very bright, or you are allowing yourself to enable lie.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a whole essay for the slow-witted about what the news media is doing here , unfortunately, slow-witted Americans don’t read The Intercept. He begins by recalling one of the worst CNN false reports pushing the Russia collusion coup effort, now down a memory hole, as CNN (and its fixer Brian Stelter) still insist that the networks reporting on that debacle was impeccable. Greenwald writes,

Very shortly after CNN unveiled its false story, MSNBC’s intelligence community spokesman Ken Dilanian went on air and breathlessly announced that he had obtained independentconfirmation that the CNN story was true. In a video segment I cannot recommend highly enoughDilanian was introduced by an incredibly excited Hallie Jackson — who urged Dilanian to “tell us what we’ve just now learned,” adding, “I know you and some of our colleagues have confirmed some of this information: What’s up?” Dilanian then proceeded to explain what he had learned:

“That’s right, Hallie. Two sources with direct knowledge of this are telling us that congressional investigators have obtained an email from a man named “Mike Erickson” — obviously they don’t know if that’s his real name — offering Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. access to WikiLeaks documents. … It goes to the heart of the collusion question. … One of the big questions is: Did [Trump Jr.] call the FBI?”

How could that happen? How could MSNBC purport to confirm a false story from CNN? Shortly after, CBS News also purported to have “confirmed” the same false story: that Trump Jr. received advanced access to the WikiLeaks documents. It’s one thing for a news outlet to make a mistake in reporting by, for instance, misreporting the date of an email and thus getting the story completely wrong. But how is it possible that multiple other outlets could “confirm” the same false report?

It’s possible because news outlets have completely distorted the term “confirmation” beyond all recognition. Indeed, they now use it to mean the exact opposite of what it actually means, thereby draping themselves in journalistic glory they have not earned and, worse, deceiving the public into believing that an unproven assertion has, in fact, been proven. With this disinformation method, they are doing the exact opposite of what journalism, at its core, is supposed to do: separate fact from speculation.

The effectiveness of this technique depends on confirmation bias. A late, periodically lamented left-biased commentator here insisted that he knew Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election because that’s the kind of person he is. This, of course, is bigotry as well as confirmation bias, but that kind of thought process is driving the willingness of so many to accept an inherently unreliable story.

Greenwald neatly explains why the story should not have been published, much less “confirmed”:

The same misleading tactic is now driving the supremely dumb but all-consuming news cycle centered on whether President Trump, as first reported by the Atlantic’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, made disparaging comments about The Troops. Goldberg claims that “four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day” — whom the magazine refuses to name because they fear “angry tweets” — told him that Trump made these comments. Trump, as well as former aides who were present that day (including Sarah Huckabee Sanders and John Bolton), deny that the report is accurate.

Under the journalism standards so prominently extolled in “All The President’s Men,” such a lame hit job would never have  gotten past Ben Bradley.

Ann Althouse today revisits the “confirmation” con as well, writing,

If Rumormonger tells a story to Newspaper1 and then Rumormonger tells the story to Newspaper2, Newspaper2 can’t say that it is confirming the story! It can only confirm that Rumormonger is mongering that story. There’s no more confirmation than if Newspaper1 and Newspaper2 were on a conference call with Rumormonger and heard the story simultaneously.

Well, yeah. Isn’t that obvious? Apparently not. Meanwhile, the Atlantic’s slur is still being believed because so many people want to believe it (Big Lie genius #1) and because it is the kind of smear that has to be denied, thus giving the Big Lie legitimacy by receiving the dignity of a rebuttal(Big Lie genius #2).

Trump, meanwhile, also assists these tactics because he is so undisciplined, and couldn’t restrain himself from attacking the Fox reporter who “confirmed” the story. That set off another controversy: a President calling for a journalist to be fired for doing her job! Part of the Get Trump strategy is to try to infuriate him, and provoke him into making a fatal mistake in a fit of rage. He also denied that he had ever called McCain a “loser,” and that’s a matter of record. See? If he’d lie about that, why believe his denials about the Atlantic story?

Jonathan Turley, in an article in The Hill, seems to suggest that the news media damages itself at least as much as the President with such tactics, ironically making it less valuable as a Democratic Party ally. He writes in part,

If an article included such an alleged statement by either President Bush, it would have been dismissed instantly as ridiculous. Over the past three years Trump has made himself vulnerable to such allegations, due to his history of outrageous remarks.

Yet the same is true of the media. Three years ago, a story of this kind would have been devastating for any president — but the media has rendered itself as unbelievable as the subject of its current ire. While denouncing Trump as a pathological liar, the media has been pathologically biased. …Most of the media now feeds a steady diet of unrelentingly negative stories to a shrinking audience of true believers. As a result, the media has hit a historic low, with less than half of the populace finding it credible….The Knight Foundation has found that three-fourths of the public believe the media is too biased; some 54 percent believe reporters regularly misrepresent facts, and 28 percent believe reporters make things up entirely.

There is a reason for this view of bias: It’s true. Many journalists do not attempt to hide their anti-Trump agendas. In the age of “echo-journalism,” it is even viewed as an essential commitment on some networks. False stories about Trump or Trump aides have been published regularly, only to be quietly withdrawn or “corrected” after the news cycle has run. 

Indeed, as reporters pummeled the White House with angry questions over the Atlantic story, a press conference held by Democratic nominee Joe Biden was the very image of deference and decorum. Reporters seemed to go out of their way to confirm months of criticism over the softball treatment given to Biden. Atlantic staff writer Edward Isaac Dovere asked Biden: “When you hear these remarks — ‘suckers,’ ‘losers,’ recoiling from amputees — what does it tell you about President Trump’s soul and the life he leads?”

…The core alleged comment, attributed to unnamed sources, has been denied by a host of officials who were with Trump in France at that time, including figures like former national security adviser John Bolton. The article also states that Trump did not visit the cemetery in part over his concern that the rainy day would mess up his hair, but White House documents show that, as stated at the time, the military notified his staff that the presidential helicopter should be grounded. Bolton has confirmed the weather was the reason and noted that, if this story were true, he would have made it a chapter in his anti-Trump book. Trump might not have wanted to go, but the reason was a bad helicopter day, not a bad hair day…

In short…it is a Big Lie.

17 thoughts on “More On The Atlantic’s Big Lie

  1. The Democrats are really sinking their own ship. To beat Trump, they need to put forth at least an image of competency. First, they seemed incapable of holding primaries. I mean, what happened to the primaries, it seemed like they just decided they were too hard and gave up on them. Then they couldn’t seem to find anyone capable of doing a webcast for a virtual town hall. They keep complaining about systemic racism in police departments, but those departments are all run by Democrats. Their convention was a dud and they didn’t even think to buy the ad space for it, so Trump ran HIS ads all during the DNC. Finally, they desperately make up a lie like this and they don’t pay off John Bolton. John Bolton was their key to this. He was there, he hates Trump, and people recognize his name. How can they be expected to run the country when they can’t even make a plausible hit-job on Donald Trump? I mean, they have had over 3 years to find some legitimate dirt on Donald Trump to force him out of office and what do they come up with? This? Are you really telling me that the coordinated efforts of every Democratic politician, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, and the DOJ have been unable to dig up any substantive skeletons in Trump’s closet? None? Is Trump really that squeaky clean or are all of these people THAT incompetent?

    • Are you really telling me that the coordinated efforts of every Democratic politician, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, and the DOJ have been unable to dig up any substantive skeletons in Trump’s closet?
      Also, why did they think that the whole Ukraine thing was properly impeachable?

  2. “Most of the media now feeds a steady diet of unrelentingly negative stories to a shrinking audience of true believers.”

    Would that “a shrinking audience of true believers” were true. I guess I can hope it’s true.

  3. Re: the anonymous sources. Boy, was I ever naive. I thought if you worked in the White House or in the executive branch, and the President was distasteful to you, you would quit your post and quietly go do something else. I can’t believe all these people who stay at their posts and then act against the President and his wishes. They’re worse than the Brennans and Clappers who get forced out and then bad mouth a President they don’t like. Incredibly immature and unbecoming. Maybe it’s an attitude that is bred by a civil service (and government pension) culture. “I’m here until I qualify for one or more pensions. You’re just here for four or so years. You’re not the boss of me.”

    As a side note, I have to pass on a hilarious comment made in passing by a Trump addled college room mate and retired big firm lawyer. He was sliming Trump and said in passing that he knows Sally Yates personally “and, she’s a wonderful mother.” What the fuck?

  4. I’ve been following this more and more. The more I see it, the more convinced either the journalist were making it up or they were lied to (Both looks bad for their credibility). The first is the number of people we know were there based on FIOA, news, and other documents pretty much is done to one who hasn’t come out and said they didn’t here it and that is General Kelly. I do find it interesting that Kelly’s aid did come out and say he didn’t hear and if Kelly did he would have said something. So at least one source could have said he heard it (and it would be a damning source, especially if he said other people in the room heard it and said publicly they did it). This does still not account for the other 3 sources as quoted in the Atlantic article.

    The second is what it means to confirm. I don’t see how it is logical to say our sources confirmed it. Unless they have audio or video evidence, they cannot confirm it. They can just say it happened. Physical evidence is confirmation. Testimony is just hearsay. Despite that, that isn’t even what bothers me. What bothers me is what is being used to confirm. Jennifer Griffin said her sources were umimpeachable (nice dig there). News reporters were saying Fox News confirmed it (they didn’t). Turns out today Griffin’s sources (by her own admission today) weren’t even there. They were secondary sources.

    The third is the already proven inaccuracies of the 4 sources. Did they really hear Trump say those things? Maybe, but how can I possibility believe that when they claim other things happened that evidence shows did not happen. According to the Atlantic article the four sources said Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. The marines rejected this, documents rejected this, witnesses rejected it.

    The fourth is Mr. Goldberg himself (The author of the Alantic article). In the words of Jonathan Turley who describes it better than I ever could,

    “In an interview with CNN, the author of the article Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg was confronted by strong rebuttals by various officials over the assertion that the cancellation of the Trump visit was due to his concern over his hair or a disparaging view of the fallen. When asked about documents and witnesses suggesting that the cancellation was weather related as claimed, Goldberg simply seemed to shrug and say that those accounts might be true but that Trump still holds disrespectful views of veterans. That was hardly a resounding defense of those elements of his article. Moreover, when the evidence was presented that the helicopter was grounded, Goldberg noted that the grounding is insulting to Marines who said that they can fly in any weather. However, again, that is not what the story said and it was the military that objected to flying (the issue was not that the helicopter could not fly but that it would have to fly too low for the safety of the President). ”

    The fifth is the president. What makes this believable is his attitude towards this story.He continues to be a jerk about the whole situation. He should have just left it alone. The media is doing enough on this topic to destroy themselves. But because he is he, and he is a jerk, it only makes it more believable (This is why I’m only about 70% convinced it didn’t happen and not 100%). Thus he completes the circle in his race to the bottom with the media.

    6th. Bolton. Bolton as already denied hearing this, so I don’t so much want to say that but how people on the left have reacted to Bolton’s confession. Goldberg had to know Bolton was there. Did he ask Bolton to confirm the incident? I highly doubt it. But the left is being intentionally obtuse on Bolton’s confession. They said things like “you trust him now? I thought you said he was a liar?” I don’t have to believe Bolton to believe him on this. His relationship with Trump makes his confession believable. Bolton has already proved he would stab Trump in the back (He even said if he did hear it he would have). If anything, this makes his other clams about Trump a little more believable.

    With that I have 4 closing notes:
    First. This shouldn’t have been a story. The authors have no evidence and no witnesses to go on record. If it wasn’t Trump, someone else would have a strong case for libel (I’m not even sure Trump doesn’t have a case for libel, a judge is allowing Palin to go to court in a libel case against the NYT so you never know).

    Second. Who is this story for? It isn’t the Nevertrumpers or the die hards. Neither one of those is going to change their minds (this is conjecture on my part) It is for people who haven’t made up their minds. This is another reason the story should not have been printed. It could just as easily (maybe more so) driven people to Trump’s side in sympathy.

    Third. What would it take to fully push someone to stand on one said or other of this story? Does it even matter anymore? At this point, I’m pretty sure one of the following is the only way we will ever know for sure. In no particular order:
    1. Trump admits he was lying.
    2. Mr. Goldberg admits he made it up.
    3. The four sources admit they lied.
    4. A voice or video recording confirms it.

    The burden of proof should always be on the accuser. Even in the court of public opinion.

    Four. Mean tweets are a sad excuse to not go on record on this. While I was in the army we had the acromyn LDRSHIP drilled inside of us. If these sources were military sources, they certainly lacked military values. Where’s the duty? Where’s the respect? Where’s the selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. By the sources not coming forward, they shown they have none of those qualities.

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