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The Liar in Chief departs The Stage

I thought January 20 was Joe Biden’s Day. And then came my need to acknowledge the Bernie Memes which have captivated social media. Besides, I figured we’ve had enough of Donald J. Trump.

But eventually I knew it would come time to note that Trump left the stage exactly where he came in four long, dismal years ago. Lying.

At Joint Base Andrews, about to board Air Force One for the flight out of Washington, Trump took credit as he has many times before, for VA Choice and VA Accountability, two laws first passed in 2014 during the administration of President Barak Obama.

The vets have given us an approval rating like it has never been before. We took care of our vets and our beautiful vets, they were very badly treated before we came along. And as you know, we get them great service and we pick up the bill and they can go out and they can see a doctor if they have to wait long periods of time.

It is not the first time Trump told this lie. Florida Senator Mario Rubio likes to take credit for the legislation too.

Now try if you can to think back to the day after Trump’s inauguration, January 21, 2017. Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer comes out to brief the White House reporters and tells them with a straight face that the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration the day before set a record.

But photos comparing the Trump inauguration with the crowds for President Obama showed clearly that Obama was the bigger draw. Then the White House released obviously doctored pictures faked to make the Trump crowd look larger. This was the opening salvo in what turned out to be four years of lies by the Trump administration. It was like nothing we had ever seen. By the time Trump and his staff were finished with four years of lying with impunity, and falsely accusing responsible fact oriented news media of publishing “fake news,” even seasoned reporters had to wonder what was fact and what was fiction.

There was no better advocate for this systemic lying during the Trump administration than Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s senior advisors and a frequent spokesperson. Kellyanne, who resigned in the waning days of the administration and seems to be trying to rehabilitate her record, was an expert at steamrolling right over interviewers, ignoring their questions to practice “whataboutism,” pointing out alleged untruths told by Trump’s political opponents. In a remarkable interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, she infamously described her obfuscation as the presentation of “alternative facts.”

Keeping track of Trump’s lies became a cottage industry all its own. The Washington Post reported more than thirty thousand in four years.

The biggest lie is the lie that triggered the mob attack on Congress on January 6 in which people died. By 2017 Trump was lying about the 2016 election results, falsely claiming that he not only won the votes in the electoral college but also won the popular vote. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million.

By 2020, long before the balloting began, Trump was unabashedly laying the groundwork to continue that lie, openly proclaiming that if he won the election was valid but if he lost it would be because the election was fixed. The absurdity of the position not withstanding, Trump’s historic lie drew support from the mob and from members of the Senate and House.

So the Trump administration began in a lie and it ended in a lie. And this should not have been any surprise to people who have followed Trump’s career. I began my reporting on The Donald in 1989, when I arrived in New York as the new bureau chief of the public television program Nightly Business Report. I interviewed Trump in the 1990s. I was with him as he took the inaugural flight of the Trump Shuttle, New York to Boston. I was with him as he cut the ribbon on his casino in Atlantic City. And when he dedicated several residential properties in Manhattan.

But I was also there in various courtrooms as his projects went into bankruptcy. I was in the courtroom on more than one occasion when contractors, suppliers, and other service providers sued Trump for breach of contract. Trump never showed up personally for those sessions. But in many an interview and in his ghost written books he readily admitted that he viewed contracts as a starting point, not an obligation. After the poor counter-party had delivered the goods, Trump would refuse to pay and challenge the guy he had stiffed to sue him.

Things got so bad Trump had trouble finding contractors to work on his properties or banks to loan him money. The regular equity and debt markets were closed to him after a series of defaults. Those defaults have continued.

The Donald Trump who America bought, the one who hosted The Apprentice for eleven years, was not the real Donald Trump. It was an fictitious character constructed by producer Mark Burnett and NBC. Did Trump know he was putting one over on gullible Americans and members of the news media? Or did he come to believe the lie? I’ll leave that to the psychiatrists to figure out.

For now I will exhilarate in the presence of a president and presidential staff which can tell the difference between the lie and the truth, and values the later. After President Biden himself, no one demonstrates this quality better than his wonderful press secretary, Jen Psaski.

No nonsense but with a sense of humor, Psaski brings a wealth of experience to the Jim Brady White House Press Room, where she has reinstated the regular press briefings. She treats the journalists with respect and earns their respect in return. She refuses to traffic in lies and innuendo. She is not afraid to say she does not have information on a subject she is asked but will look into the matter and follow-up. In other words, she is doing exactly what a long line of distinguished presidential press secretaries have done over the years to handle the sensitive relationship between government and the news media. It is a breath of fresh air.

The great American historian Michael Beschloss put it best:

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Who the hell are these people?

Embed from Getty Images

What would you do if you saw these people advancing on you? What if they ordered you to stand still, or drop to your knees, or put your hands up in the air? One of these thugs, they do remind me of a motorcycle gang, is carrying a shield marked “police.” But you can buy one of those in any army-navy store. These guys have no badges, no insignia, no nametags, no proof they have the authority to order you or anyone else about. I don’t know about you but facing them I’d be scared stiff.

These ghost soldiers confronted residents of our nation’s capital city and it was a sight unseen in modern times. The residents these stormtroopers confronted were almost all peacefully protesting. That is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Actually, calling these guys stormtroopers is unfair to stormtroopers, who in Star Wars wore white. They are more like Robocop, the cyborg created by corporations to enforce their interests in a dystopian comic book future.

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The Name Game

Calling another kid by an unflattering nickname is a habit most of us left on the grade school playground. Of course, Donald Trump is not “most of us.” Donald Trump seems to take a particular delight in coming up with a derogatory nickname for people he is not too fond of. “Crooked Hillary” is just one example.

Some of the people he attacks don’t take the bait and engage him in this fashion. I admire them. I don’t think I would capable of that much self restraint. If a punch in the nose wasn’t an available option, and the guy is of course surrounded by Secrete Service agents, I’d at least resort to the obvious retorts. “Donny Draft Dodger” is a good fit. And “Pussy Grabber” would work for an adult audience.

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Losing Earth

I approve of paywalls because I believe content creators deserve to be paid for their efforts. I subscribe to several paywalled services, including The New York Times.
But I rarely recommend to others on social media stories behind paywalls because of the different rules and limits from site to site. For this I make an exception.
Do whatever it takes to get yourself a copy of the story which ran as the cover of the Times’ Magazine last Sunday. That cover was solid black, with the white letters, “Thirty years ago we could have saved the planet.” Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change by Nathaniel Rich is as good as it gets. And as important.

 

Going Public: Reporting on IPOs

A few months ago I moderated a training teleconference for reporters as part of the continuing education program of SABEW, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. The teleconference focused on Initial public offerings—the first sales of stock issued by a company to the public.

The teleconference is now available as a podcast you can play at any time to hear a panel of experts decipher the language of IPOs and discuss how reporters should cover companies as they prepare to go public. We talked about how reporters can use the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR database to access IPO prospectuses and which nuggets of information and red flags they should look for in SEC documents when researching companies that are about to go public.

On the panel was John Divine, an investing reporter at U.S. News & World Report, Lauren Hirsch the deals team leaders and correspondent at Thomson Reuters in New York, Tom Taulli who has been involved in the IPO market since the mid-1990s when he co-founded Web IPO, and Jack Willoughby, a senior editor at Barron’s who wrote the financial publication’s “Offerings in the Offings” column.

You can hear the podcast here.

Trump and the Employment Report, fact and fiction, Pt. 2

Numbers are funny things. Even though they appear to be absolute, a clever manipulator can twist them to make pretty much any point he wants to make. Take President Trump’s statement from February: “Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force.” It might seem preposterous but it is correct, as the great sage Obi-Wan-Kenobi once said, “from a certain point of view.”

It is the number you get if you take the total U.S. population 16-years of age and older and subtract the people the BLS says are in the labor force. That number includes everyone who is retired, and most high-school, college, graduate or vocational school student. It also includes the disabled, homemakers, some self-employed and those living off their investments.

My guide to reporting the employment report continues at businessjournalism.org….

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