The early months of the Trump presidency will involve fierce battles about such policy matters as health care, trade and immigration. As its very first fight, though, his administration chose a target that has alarmed observers of authoritarian leaders: verifiable facts.
In a monologue at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency on the first full day of his presidency, Trump blasted the media for correctly reporting on the size of his inauguration crowd, falsely claiming it was actually much bigger. His press secretary, Sean Spicer, then did the same from a podium at the White House, making five provably false claims and walking out.
Spicer’s words were not lies, Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway said on NBC the next morning. They were, she said, “alternative facts.”
The instantly immortal piece of spin triggered another round of mockery on social media and beyond. For watchdogs in countries that have slid away from democracy, it was not a laughing matter in the slightest. Phillip Gunson, an International Crisis Group senior analyst in Caracas, wrote on Twitter: “This is how it begins: casting doubt on the veracity of things you can see with your own eyes. After a while, you start to doubt your eyes.”
Fomenting doubt about the traditional providers of facts helps inoculate politicians such as Erdogan and Trump against future stories about their wrongdoing, Zeynalov said. He said they are especially sensitive to truths that call into question the supposed popular support they use to justify their governing.
“Crowd sizes, how many people applauded me, how many people voted for me — this is the essence of populist leaders: to make sure that the people who love them, who applaud them, are ‘bigger.’ Whenever you challenge that notion, you’re assaulting the crux of their argument,” he said.
Read the whole thing.
And as reporter Daniel Dale said on Twitter: It's kind of perfect that the administration supported by the white supremacist "alt-right" is now calling lies "alt-facts."
I'm glad the NYT is giving us stories like White House Pushes 'Alternative Facts.' Here Are the Real Ones. Here's hoping that journalists will do more of that, because we certainly need it for however long the current administration has any power at all.
And at this point, the explanation here might some obvious, but maybe we're going to need the reminders that constant, brazen lying is a strategy and it isn't a strategy used by the Good Guys.