More than weeks after Donald Trump okayed the drone killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the White House still can't tell the country why the order was given, as Trump and his aides clumsily shift their cover stories in a charade that unfolds in public view. Leaning on various imminent terror threats that were supposedly afoot against American embassies, Trump has plainly, and casually, concocted scenarios to explain his actions.
As CNN's expert on Trump fabrications Daniel Dale noted, "Over two days, Trump has gone from 1) not mentioning embassies to 2) saying it was the embassy in Baghdad to 3) saying it was embassies plural to 4) saying it was four embassies."
The supposed attack was "probably going to be" on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Trump told Fox News, in another moment of not-believable spin. "I believe," he added unconvincingly.
There's no question that George W. Bush lied the country into war against Iraq back in 2003, but at least the administration spent months and resources manufacturing a cover story (WMD's!). By contrast, the Trump team can't be bothered. Instead, they just make stuff up. Trump's lying and every journalist covering the Iran story knows he's lying, but news outlets won't use accurate descriptions to describe the simmering foreign policy crisis. By refusing to call out Trump's lies, the press has basically taken truth telling off the table — we can't call Trump a liar even though his lies absolutely define his presidency.
Instead, news consumers are told the White House explanation for the Iran strike is "muddled," according to one weekend CNN report I saw. Trump officials "struggle" to explain the justifications for the attack, Politico reported. The Washington Post used the exact same language in a recent headline: "Senior administration officials struggle to explain intelligence behind killing of Soleimani."
But Trump's not "struggling." He's just lying.
This is why I've been hammering the "liar" point for the three years and urging the press to be accurate and honest with news consumers and to call Trump what he is, a (pathological) liar. Instead, newsrooms, led by the New York Times, erected brand new guidelines for covering Trump and his radical behavior. Hiding behind an absurd notion that because editors and reporters aren't inside Trump's mind they can't definitively tell whether he was lying or not — he might just be misinformed! This, by the way, is the same rational Times editor Dean Baquet has used to explain why the newspaper doesn't call Trump a racist even though he engages in endlessly racist behavior.
Just recently, the Associated Press' executive editor, Sally Buzbee, echoed the same claim regarding whether Trump's a liar. "It's hard to get inside anybody's head," she claimed, adding, "The president obviously has a different attitude toward how he uses stories and how he uses facts." (What does that even mean?)
The problem with that timid, he-might-just-be-misinformed excuse is that Trump has told some specific lies 40, 50, even 60 times in public, which makes a mockery out of the idea that he doesn't know he's telling obvious fabrications. He's a liar, just say so. Why has this proven to be so difficult for the press, and why have some outlets such as the Times, chosen this strange hill to die on?
So what's all this have to do with Iran? After three years of playing silly semantics games about Trump's inability to tell the truth, journalists are covering a truly life-and-death news story and one that briefly looked like it might spiral into all-out war. But the press can't accurately describe what's happening as Trump brazenly lies about the justification of the deadly drone attack because journalists have hidden "lies" and "liar" under lock and key.
What seems a bit different with this story though, is not only the seriousness, in which the United States deliberately assassinated a military general from a country we're not at war with, but how aggressively Trump is insulting everyone's intelligence, including journalists reporting on the story and who obviously know what’s happening. Still, most are not willing to take the next obvious step and tell news consumers the truth. Instead, journalists continue the Kabuki dance, where they've been assigned the role of not being able to figure out quite what's going on — even though everyone knows exactly what's going on.
Under Trump, we've gotten to the remarkable place where some of the best and brightest in American journalism are paid to pretend they can't figure out current events.
New York magazine came closer than many in media with its headline, in terms spelling out the complete charade Trump was orchestrating in trying to justify to Soleimani assassination: “Trump’s Rationale for Killing Soleimani Makes No Sense.” (It’s interesting to note that in the article’s url, the piece is tagged as “trump-case-for-killing-soleimani-iran-lies.” Too bad “lies” wasn’t used in the headline.)