Spicer’s Lies Mean More Than You Think

There is a post that’s been going around on social media explaining the purposes served by the blatantly dishonest press conference given by Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer.

Sean Spicer at Press Room Podium
Sean Spicer. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by user GrahamHughey

I’m worried that the significance of the crazy lies is greater than most people realize, and that the outrage over the new normal will fade.

For most of us (two thirds, according to the post), Spicer’s lie wasn’t meant to convince. It was meant to establish. It’s not like a guy with pockets full of jewelry telling the police that he had nothing to do with the jewelry store that just got robbed. It’s more like the same guy with a gun telling a witness, “You didn’t see a thing”.

With this new normal, Trump can tell us that the economy is booming even if it collapses. He can tell us that public schools are working even as public school students slip further behind their wealthier peers. He can tell us that he has actionable evidence of crimes committed by his political adversaries (“Lock her up!”), and it should go without saying that he can start wars on false pretenses for economic gain or to distract from domestic issues.

Trump and his team know that there has been and will continue to be a backlash against this new normal. They’re prepared for it. Which means that we have to give them more than what they’re prepared for. The resistance must be greater than what any of us have expected. Introverts and TV addicts have to start getting active. People who have never voted before have to start taking an interest in political activity, and it would be great if Sanders and Clinton supporters could come together.

Below is the post that I referred to. It was originally tweeted by Anna Rascouët-Paz, but written by “someone who worked in a past administration”. I transcribed the text ( using Google Drive ) because the original was in a graphic format, so any grammatical errors might not be from the original.

If you are puzzled by the bizarre “press conference” put on by the White House press secretary this evening (angrily claiming that Trump’s inauguration had the largest audience in history, accusing them of faking photos and lying about attendance), let me help explain it. This spectacle served three purposes:

1. Establishing a norm with the press: they will be told things that are obviously wrong and they will have no opportunity to ask questions. That way, they will be grateful if they get anything more at any press conference. This is the PR equivalent of “negging,” the odious pick-up practice of a particular kind of horrible person (e.g., Donald Trump).

2. Increasing the separation between Trump’s base (1/3 of the population) from everybody else (the remaining 2/3). By being told something that is obviously wrong – that there is no evidence for and all evidence against, that anybody with eyes can see is wrong – they are forced to pick whether they are going to believe Trump or their lying eyes. The gamble here likely to pay off is that they will believe Trump. This means that they will regard media outlets that report the truth as “fake news” (because otherwise they’d be forced to confront their cognitive dissonance.)

3. Creating a sense of uncertainty about whether facts are knowable, among a certain chunk of the population (which is a taking a page from the Kremlin, for whom this is their preferred disinformation tactic). A third of the population will say “clearly the White House is lying,” a third will say “if Trump says it, it must be true,” and the remaining third will say “gosh, I guess this is unknowable.” The idea isn’t to convince these people of untrue things, it’s to fatigue them, so that they will stay out of the political process entirely, regarding the truth as just too difficult to determine.

This is laying important groundwork for the months ahead. If Trump’s White House is willing to lie about something as obviously, unquestionably fake as this, just imagine what else they’ll lie about. In particular, things that the public cannot possibly verify the truth of. It’s gonna get real bad.

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The Internet and the Civil War

Imagine if 30 years ago someone were to tell you that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, and to prove it showed you a quote like this one from General Robert E. Lee, here taken from Confederate American Pride:

There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery is an institution of a moral and political evil

Assuming that you believed the quote to be accurate, you might be left scratching your head and wondering why this seems so contradictory to what you’ve always heard. You’re probably not going to run to the library to research Robert E. Lee quotes to see the context from which that quote was taken. Which is, by the way, via Wikipedia and Rad Geek,

In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise God.

Of course, 30 years ago, few people would have heard the misleading out-of-context quote to begin with, so the Internet helps spread lies along with the truths that debunk them. Which is why there are still so many Confederate battle flag lovers who think the flag isn’t a symbol of racism.

I know that such true believers exist, but if they honestly do their research, they should have a change of heart.

People with busy lives who don’t think much about the flag and what it has stood for may be forgiven for not knowing the truth. But for anyone willing to make a stand, the Internet leaves little excuse for such ignorance. By the time someone is yelling “baaa, baaa” into a bullhorn at counter-protesters to a Confederate rally to drown out the truth, or has compiled a website full of out-of-context quotes and misleading facts, that person is not a true believer. That person is a liar.

Global Cooling is a Hoax

I had a post in draft for a long time about how “they used to call it Global Cooling”. My post would have explained that in my opinion, just because scientists currently have a different opinion than the one they had over 30 years ago about how all the gasses and particles that we’re spewing into our atmosphere are affecting our climate, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to them now. If scientists once felt that pollution would more likely block out the sun like a beach umbrella than trap the heat like a greenhouse, they were still a lot smarter than anyone who felt that pollution would have no effect at all.

But apparently, that point is moot because the whole idea that scientists once warned us about pollution causing the next ice age is a myth that deniers have perpetuated to discredit science.

As DarkSyde points out in the the article that I linked to above, those of us who remember the 70’s remember alarming articles about a coming ice age, so it’s easy for deniers to use those memories to perpetuate the lie that scientists have reversed their opinion. But the truth is, while some scientists did indeed worry about the chilling effects of “man-made dust” which may have actually contributed to colder weather in the late 70’s, there was never a scientific consensus about what would be the aggregate effect of all the different kinds of poison that we’re pumping into our atmosphere. As reported in a March 1976 article by Richard Wolkomir in the Saturday Evening Post:

Meteorologists worry that man-made dust in the atmosphere— which has doubled in the past fifty years, according to some studies—will block some of the sun’s radiation from reaching the earth, chilling the climate. Conversely, other scientists have predicted that carbon dioxide, pumped into the atmosphere in massive quantities by civilization’s fires and engines, might have a greenhouse effect: it would allow the sun’s energy to penetrate the atmosphere, but would block the resulting heat firom radiating back into space, so that the earth would steadily heat up.

Emphasis mine

There’s another article on Daily Kos, also by DarkSyde, titled “Huckabee falls for the global cooling myth”. But I have to admit that I fell for it too.

The truth is, while some scientists expressed concern about the cooling effects of man-made pollution, and some magazines and newspapers ran alarmist articles about the possibility of an upcoming ice age, scientists never came to the conclusion that if we didn’t do something quickly, “we’d be popsicles”.

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Photo:Rebekah Goldberg

Once again, the right has lied to us and the so-called “liberal media” has done little to set the record straight.

Jeanne Assam was a Cop

Making rounds in the Internet is an image macro which describes how Jeanne Assam shot a church murderer in Colorado in 2007. The image praises her for pulling out her “legal, concealed gun”, then says you would never hear about her from the “Liberal Media, because she is an inconvenient fact in their war to disarm America”.

According to the image, the liars who take credit for it are TeaPartyCommunity.com.

They are lying only by omission when it comes to the shooting and the heroic take-down by Ms. Assam. They are leaving out one important fact: Jeanne Assam was a retired cop and she was on duty as a security officer when she pulled out her “legal, concealed gun”.

That’s a big omission, because the so-called liberal plan to disarm America would not have extended towards Jeanne Assam. Even people calling for tighter gun control generally aren’t saying we should disarm cops and qualified security guards. In fact the Colorado Springs shooting might be a perfect example of the point that Liberal America is trying to make: It should be harder for deranged lunatics to get guns, and guns belong in the hands of properly trained public servants.

Tea Party Community may be lying by omission about Assam, but they are lying directly about the media. The incident was covered at the time. In fact, the press coverage of Assam was extensive enough to be used as an example in this critique by NBC on the use of the word “exclusive”:

I’m tired of these fake so called exclusives wherein networks make us to believe that the only place to have a certain of information. If you’re watching cable news Monday night, you might have seen interviews with Jeanne Assam, the volunteer security guard who killed the gunman at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. She was on CNN on Monday night as indicated in their exclusive banner and the next hour, she was on FOX News. If you tuned in to GOOD MORNING AMERICA on Tuesday morning, lo and behold, GMA exclusive.

And the website for Assam’s book has quotes from the press. Four years later Ms. Assam was in the spotlight again, when she said the church which she so bravely defended asked her to leave because she was gay.

So another right wing lie goes viral and those willing to take a little time to do some fact checking bang our heads in frustration.

Edit 2015/6/21: The Snopes article originally failed to mention Jeanne Assam’s police background, but has been updated, so I removed this paragraph: Sadly, Snopes has the misleading image macro in an article which explores the question, “Was a church shooting foiled by an armed woman in the congregation?”. Indeed the answer to that question is “yes”, but Snopes, like Tea Party Community, fails to mention that Assam was an ex-cop and a security guard, and the use of the image in that article strongly suggests that the words in the image are true.

Daily Current Article Linked to Unrest, Deaths in Dearborn

A Daily Current article which stated that Christian woman were being forced to wear head scarfs at a Muslim owned company in Dearborn, Michighan has sparked riots in that city, leaving 12 people dead and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage. Four of the dead were members of the Al Allah Mosque in Dearborn, which was attacked and burned Saturday night.

Although the July 22nd article is 10 months old, it remains popular on social media and there has been a recent increase in activity by social media users linking to and commenting about the article.

The unrest began when a peaceful protest against impending Sharia law turned violent as frustrated protesters where unable to find the Khilāf Krafts arts and crafts store, which was the subject of the Currant article.

“I asked a dozen of these terrorists where that Kali-whatever crafts store was and none of them gave me a straight answer”, said Bernard Nubart, a resident of a Dearborn suburb worried about the encroachment of Sharia law in the U.S. “I don’t agree with all the killing, but I understand why people was upset”

Imam Saddam Bin Barack of Al Allah expressed dismay. “I don’t understand what the violence is about. Shouldn’t an employer have the right to have his employees to submit to his religions demands? Is this not a free country?”

Dr. Howard Jane, dean of Political Science at the University of Michigan was surprised at demographics of rioters. “Usually White people and Christians find more peaceful ways of expressing social and political dissatisfaction. They tend to reserve violence for athletic events or college festivals.”

A recent press conference which was planned to be about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership turned into a discussion about riots throughout the nation. In an answer to a reporter’s question, Obama seemed resigned that his last year in office will be marked by wanton destruction and murder. Although he began asking for calm, his long, rambling statement turned sour by the end. “You know what? I give up. Fuck this shit. And fuck the Daily Currant. In fact, fuck you. All of you. If people don’t even understand when they’re reading satire, then there’s no hope”.

Yes, There Really Were Gunshots in Buenos Aires in 1982

After Mother Jones posted a story by David Corn accusing Bill O’Reilly of lying about being in the Falklands during the war that took place there and exaggerating his experiences in Buenos Aires, O’Reilly has been defending himself by denying ever having said he was in the Falklands, and by saying that his coverage in Buenos Aires counts as being in a combat zone.

I think that if O’Reilly had admitted that he misspoke about being on the Falklands but emphasized that he did cover the violent protests in Argentina and had been in dangerous situations elsewhere, this all would have washed over. But what O’Reilly did instead was cover his lies with more lies and with straw man arguments, pretending that the Mother Jones story denied his ever seeing violence in Buenos Aires and touting video clips showing the protests.

But Mother Jones never denied the violence. In fact, the original article noted,

Dispatches on the protest filed by reporters from the New York Times, the Miami Herald, and UPI note that thousands did take to the street, setting fires, breaking store windows, and that riot police did battle with protesters who threw rocks and sticks. They say tear gas was deployed; police clubbed people with nightsticks and fired rubber bullets; reporters were assaulted by demonstrators and by police; and a photojournalist was wounded in the legs by gunfire.

But O’Reilly exaggerated the violent reaction of the government against the protesters. According to the original article

O’Reilly noted that soldiers “were just gunning these people down, shooting them down in the streets” with “real bullets.”

Mother Jones called O’Reilly on his placement in the Falklands and on his exaggerations about the Buenos Aires protests, not on the fact of O’Reilly covering violent protests at all.

Bill O’Reilly is defending himself against accusations that were not made, because he cannot defend against what Mother Jones actually reported.

Unfortunately, after the article and O’Reilly’s initial defense, some reporters made questionable comments in their efforts to discredit O’Reilly. Eric Enberg put up a long post on Facebook in which he called the riots “relatively tame”. But when CBS released the old clips, Enberg’s comments became easy fodder for O’Reilly and his supporters, such as Mediaite’s Joe Concha who suggested Engberg must have been sleeping very soundly to have missed the sirens and gunfire.

O’Reilly lied by embellishing his experiences, then told more lies as he defended himself when his earlier lies were exposed. But the only thing Right Wing audiences will hear is how there really were gunshots in Buenos Aires, as if MoJo ever denied that there were.

That misleading question about enforcing labor laws in Texas

I tried to watch some of the Attorney General confirmation hearings with an open mind but my mind could only stay open for about ten seconds of Ted Cruz. His petulant apology on behalf of Democratic Senator Whitehouse turned my stomach. Whitehouse had appropriately criticized so called “witnesses” who had nothing to say about Loretta Lynch and were only there to spew hate about President Obama and Eric Holder. You may have heard Whitehouse’s remark by now, “I regret that this hearing and this solemn occasion has been co-opted to that extent, and turned into what appears to be a soundbite factory for Fox News and conspiracy theorists everywhere.”, but it’s worth hearing the preceding four minutes or so where Whitehouse established that the witnesses were not there to contribute anything useful to the hearings.


(The above picture is a link to the MediaMatters page that includes the video).

Ted Cruz went further, and devoted precious time to shedding crocodile tears with True the Vote head Catherine Engelbrecht, asking her to tell us “How did it make you feel to be targeted by the government for persecution?”, and rehashing debunked accusations that President Obama was to blame for the investigations of TTV by the IRS and other federal agencies.

The time Cruz didn’t spend accusing Obama of persecuting non-partisan charitable organizations and their angelic founders was spent discussing his misleading hypothetical questions about whether or not the president can decide not to enforce labor laws in Texas, and if the president has the authority to decide not to collect taxes above 25%. The bizarre scenarios were supposed to be analogous to the president deciding not to prosecute certain undocumented immigrants. Cruz was unhappy that Lynch didn’t give him the kind of direct answer he was looking for the day before. Of course she didn’t.

The questions were not asked in search of knowledge. They were asked in the search of soundbites as Senator Whitehouse stated. The answers to those questions are clearly, “No”, but if Lynch were to respond as Cruz would have liked, her words would have been twisted into a condemnation of the president’s actions. It’s typical Republican style propaganda. Republicans are all about the “if this, then why not that?” types of questions. “If we keep guns out of the hands of criminals, than why not grab everyone’s guns?”, “If we give people healthcare, than what’s to stop the government from assigning death panels to kill our grandmothers?”, “If we tax the rich, then what’s to stop us from throwing Jews into ovens?”, “If the president decides not to prosecute illegal immigrants who aren’t causing any trouble because we barely have enough resources to catch those who are causing trouble, what’s to stop him from deciding not to enforce labor laws in Texas?”

It’s all fake. Deciding not to enforce labor laws in Texas isn’t like deciding not to prosecute illegal immigrants who aren’t causing trouble. It would be more like deciding not to prosecute anybody named Teo. Cruz’s scenaries imply the use of arbitrary criteria rather than prioritizing in accordance with established guidelines. A better labor law analogy would be: Can the president, if he barely has enough resources to close down millions of sweatshops, decide not to prosecute companies for violations of ergonomic standards?

The answer to that question would be “Yes”.

Cruz’s questions weren’t designed to learn anything about Loretta Lynch. Almost everyone, including Republicans, seems to agree that she’s well qualified for the job. Republicans just want to use these hearings as yet another forum to to attack the president, and it seems they’re willing to deny the country the appointment of a very competent attorney general unless she provides them with soundbites that would help them do so.