During Friday’s televised White House press briefing with Sean Spicer, CNBC reporter Eamon Javers asked the Press Secretary about jobs.
“In the past the president has referred to particular job reports as phony or totally fiction,” said Javers. “Does the president believe that this jobs report was accurate and a fair way to measure the economy.”
A wide smile came over Spicer’s lips.
“I talked to the president prior to this and he told me to quote him very clearly. They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”
Spicer and the press corps then enjoyed a hearty laugh. The only problem, however, is that it’s not very funny.
First, without offering any further context, Spicer’s breezy dismissal of the question was a tacit admission that Trump had indeed lied when he trashed good employment news during the of his predecessor Barack Obama. On the campaign trail, Trump routinely questioned positive employment news, asserting the “real” unemployment rate was far higher. After his victory in the New Hampshire primary, Trump said, “the number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”
While it is true that the official unemployment rate has been criticized for not providing the full picture and that other measures routinely place the “real” number as much higher, 42% unemployment — more than 100 million Americans — is just never something that was ever remotely true.
Of course it’s Spicer’s job to carry water for Trump, but for the press corps to allow the moment to pass as a joke represents a stunning acceptance and normalization of the causal BS that is allowed to emanate from Trump and the White House on a daily basis. We’ve seen it before, like when journalists gave up pressing for Trump’s tax returns, even though Trump promised to release them after the completion of an IRS audit.
The precedent is a dangerous one too for future fights to come. Shortly after his election, President Trump made some expansive promises on health care. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” he said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”
For Trump, it’s all just a very old script. In his most famous book, The Art of The Deal, the real estate magnate spoke about a concept he called “truthful hyperbole.”
“It’s an innocent form of exaggeration,” he wrote. “And a very effective form of promotion.” Whether it’s inflating his net worth, or grossly overselling casinos in New Jersey, the tactic has always served him well in business.
That kind of game can fly when you’re selling slot machines to credulous investors, but it’s a very different story when you’re the leader of the free world.
If the fourth estate treats future administration falsehoods as a joke, they will become the fake news which they have so often been accused.
[image via screengrab]