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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: President can’t handle the truth

By Greg Jayne
Published: September 8, 2019, 6:02am

It could be argued, we suppose, that the strategy is clever and innovative. You know, the kind of thing you would expect from a very stable genius.

And as SharpieGate continues to give the rest of us a contact high from the absurdity of it all, we ponder whether newspapers should employ this creative game plan. Namely: When you are wrong, you don’t admit it, you double down. And then you triple down and quadruple down. And you lash out on Twitter and you display a falsified chart to prove your point and you act like a petulant fourth-grader.

Of course, newspapers could never do that. Being imperfect but beholden to a desire to tell the truth and admit our mistakes, we at least try to act with dignity and integrity. Which is more than can be said for the president of the United States.

In case you have not been following along at home, last week President Donald Trump tweeted out a warning about Hurricane Dorian and wrote that in addition to Florida, “South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated by the storm.” The National Weather Service in Alabama quickly corrected that: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

That could have been the end of it. That should have been the end of it. But Trump brought up the issue on a daily basis. On Wednesday, he produced a map of hurricane projections that seemed to have been altered with a Sharpie just to “prove” he was correct. As late as Friday, he tweeted, “The Fake News Media was fixated on the fact that I properly said, at the beginnings of Hurricane Dorian, that in addition to Florida & other states, Alabama may also be grazed or hit. They went Crazy, hoping against hope that I made a mistake (which I didn’t).”


On the long, long list of Trump’s falsehoods and misstatements, this one barely registers. It is not as significant, for example, as a couple weeks ago when the stock market was fluctuating under the weight of a trade war with China and the president claimed, “China called last night our top trade people and said, ‘Let’s get back to the table.’ ” This was news to Chinese officials, and White House aides admitted that it was a fabrication designed to stabilize the stock market.

Think about that: The president of the United States lies about communications with a foreign power in order to boost the stock market, and it doesn’t cause a ripple. That’s what happens when somebody makes more than 12,000 false statements — according to The Washington Post — in about 32 months.

We have become so inured to an administration that is pathologically incapable of telling the truth that we don’t even notice anymore. Instead, we get a chuckle and six days of news about SharpieGate. As columnist Leonard Pitts wrote: “We are living the fable of the emperor’s new clothes, only it’s not a fable, and the emperor has nuclear weapons.”

The kerfuffle over the altered hurricane map arrived at roughly the same time the vice president went out of his way to stay at a Trump property while traveling abroad, the administration redirected billions of dollars from military spending to build a wall that Mexico (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) was going to pay for, and the president tweeted a surveillance photo of Iran that might or might not have been classified. And yet the public was distracted by SharpieGate.

Which makes us wonder if this might be a good strategy for newspapers. When you get something wrong, insist that you were right. When you’re still wrong, produce a falsified map. When you’re still wrong, demand an apology from those who point it out.

Of course, we would never do that; no reputable newspaper would. We make a habit of running corrections when we get something wrong. That is what Americans demand from their media and their children and spouses and co-workers.

Which kind of is the point of this absurdity: When we expect more maturity and professionalism from newspapers or school kids than we do from the president, we truly are lost.