Good grief, why is New York Times portraying Trump as an environmental activist?

Reminder: He lies about everything

Welcome to my new media newsletter. This is where my writing now appears exclusively, three times a week. If you’d like columns delivered straight to your inbox, please sign up below. If you’re already a subscriber, please support by sharing . Cheers.

No world leader has done more to damage the pressing cause of combating global warming than Trump. From withdrawing the United States from the groundbreaking Paris Agreement on climate change, to his relentless attacks on the science surrounding the worldwide crisis, Trump's done untold damage on the world stage.

So it was odd when the New York Times recently ran a front-page article about how Trump was surprising top aides by publicly advocating on behalf of an environmental push to plant one trillion trees worldwide in the next decade to combat climate change. The article detailed how a billionaire CEO had persuaded Trump to promote the idea a couple times in recent months.

Buried deep in the Times piece about Trump being some kind of environmental activist though, was this concession: "It remains unclear what the Trump administration is committing to do in joining the trillion tree plan." So given Trump's history of being a chronic liar, it's quite likely the trillion-tree rhetoric from him is just more empty talk and a White House misdirection during an election year. Yet the Times still treated the possibility that Trump is genuinely concerned about climate change as being front-page news.

What was wrong with the Times piece reflected a larger problem the Beltway media has with taking Trump pronouncements seriously, especially policy pronouncements. It's a problem because he lies about everything, including policy. By treating sincerely his assertions, which are often quickly contradicted or simply abandoned, the press continues to paint a false, normalized picture of Trump. And the Times' trillion-tree article was a perfect example.

"The president’s commitment to a global effort to plant one trillion trees by 2030 surprised even White House officials who work on environment policy," the Times reported. "He even said he was reading a book on the topic."

See! Trump's surprisingly curious about the world around him and is willing to take new positions after he reads books about key subjects! That's the storyline the Times was selling. Question: Why on earth would anyone believe that? We know from three years of first-hand accounts from former advisers that Trump has absolutely no interest in being briefed by aides and he rarely reads background materials provided to him. But he's suddenly up late at night reading books about climate change, which he doesn't even think is man made?

Share PRESS RUN

More from the Times: "One senior administration official described the tree initiative as one the president believes will 'bring people together.'" Another question: Why would the Times grant anonymity to a White House officials in order for him/her to deliver platitudes like, the president wants to "bring people together"?

Let's be clear, in a normal administration this type of Times report would be fine. It would be an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how one environmental activist was able to champion an unlikely initiative to a Republican president, and how through sheer determination was able to convince a political adversary to come around on a novel idea to battle climate change.

That would be a fine Times article for a normal president. But Trump is a chronic liar. By showcasing his empty rhetorical embrace of this environmental initiative, the Times gives the completely false impression that Trump’s open minded about climate change, that he can be persuaded by logic and common sense. And honestly, the Times article plays into the idea that Trump has any idea what his policies actually are, or even cares.

In short, pieces like this one help normalize Trump at a time when he ought to be portrayed as the dangerous, radical player he is, specifically when it comes to the climate change crisis we're facing.

It's part of the larger "Trump Says" problem that so many newsrooms haven’t been able to fix since Inauguration Day, and it goes like this: Trump makes a random pronouncement that clearly isn't based on fact, yet it immediately produces a days worth of "Trump Says" headlines that repeat the completely dubious claim as hard news:  

-"Trump Says ‘Good Chance’ of Deal With Taliban" (Wall Street Journal)

-Trump Says He's Losing as Much as $5B Being President (NBC)

-Trump Says He Would ‘Love to Have’ Top Aides Testify (US News & World Report)

I've often said that if Trump one day announced the moon were made of cheese, at least five major news outlets would treat that as straight news for a day.

That's bad enough. But chronically pretending Trump is someone he's not, like presenting the idea on A1 that he's a budding environmental activist, is just as harmful to our public discussion.

GOOD STUFF:

I'm a bit late to this piece from The Atlantic's McKay Coppins, but it's a must-read: "The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President." Yes, like so much of what we discover today about the GOP, it's depressing and it's distressing. But it's also hugely important to understand what's unfolding this year.

FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK:

Did you see the headlines overnight that Elton John lost his voice mid-concert in New Zealand? Hope he recovers soon. This is probably my favorite Elton song. It's from his first album (50 years ago!), and he's singing like his life depends on it.

Elton John, “Take Me To The Pilot”