The New York Times recently published a story that examined the way that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign promoted his tax plan. Trump had offered a big tax break to businesses, and his campaign told a leading business group he supported the tax break. He got their endorsement. Then his campaign told independent budget analysts he was against the same tax break.
The New York Times called this a lie — specifically, “the trillion-dollar lie.”
The Times is using that word “lie” often in its coverage of Donald Trump, and Dean Baquet, the paper’s executive editor, explains why on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Has something changed in the way the paper covers and writes about Trump?
Yes, the simple answer is yes. Politicians often exaggerate their records, obfuscate, say they did something great when it wasn’t so great. I think in the last few weeks, he’s sort of crossed a little bit of a line where he’s actually said things – I think the moment for me was the birther story, where he has repeated for years his belief that President Obama was not born in the United States. [Editor’s note: On Friday, Trump reversed that claim and said Obama was born in the U.S.] That’s not an obfuscation, that’s not an exaggeration. I think that was just demonstrably a lie, and I think that lie is not a word that newspapers use comfortably.
Lie suggests you know intent.
I think that was the case with birther. I think to say that that was a “falsehood” wouldn’t have captured the duration of his claim, to be frank, the outrageousness of his claim. I think to have called it just a falsehood would have put it in the category of, to be frank, “usual political fare,” where politicians say, “My tax plan will save a billion dollars,” but it’s actually a half a billion and they’re using the wrong analysis. This was something else. And I think we owed it to our readers to just call it out for what it was.
I think we’re in a remarkably partisan moment, where people who don’t like Donald Trump feel like the media is not doing enough about him. I think that’s just wrong. I think that people who don’t like Donald Trump honestly believe that if people knew what they knew, saw what they saw, understood what they saw, that people couldn’t possibly support Donald Trump. I think that’s demonstrably false.
Are you telling people how to think?
No. No, I think if you look up lie in the dictionary it’s pretty clear. Actually it’s a synonym of falsehood. No, it would almost be illiterate to have not called the birther thing a lie.
NPR has taken a different approach and has not used the word “lie” in its coverage of Trump. In a post Mike Oreskes, NPR senior vice president for news, explains that NPR should give “citizens the information they need to make the choices that democracy asks them to make. We should not be telling you how to think. We should give you the information to decide what you think.”
Is the New York Times following that standard when it calls Trump a liar?
I think I’m using the same standard, I’m just using a different word. I think I’m using a more accurate word.
Describe Hillary Clinton’s relationship with the truth.
I think all politicians obfuscate, exaggerate, etc. I think that’s what I would say about Hillary Clinton and most other politicians.
So she’s an ordinary politician in that way?
In terms of relationship with the truth, yeah, I think she’s an ordinary politician in that way.
Has the paper used the word “lie” in reference to Hillary Clinton much?
I don’t think Hillary Clinton, to be honest, has crossed the line the way Donald Trump did with the birther issue.