How Trump Tries To Discredit What He Doesn't Like With 'Fake' And 'Phony' Labels

Aug 31, 2018
Originally published on August 31, 2018 7:22 pm
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When it comes to President Trump's tweets, August has been unique. There have been more tweets this month about things he labels fake and phony than any other month of his presidency. As NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports, the range of things he's declaring fake is growing, too.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Fake reporting, fake news, fake books, the fake dossier, fake CNN. Chaos doesn't exist. Google search results rigged to show only fake news media. An interview from 15 months ago that made him look bad - fudged. Spend some time in President Trump's Twitter feed or at his rallies of late, and the message is hard to miss.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And I just saw a poll just a little while ago, a real poll - you know, they have fake polls. They do suppression polls.

KEITH: The polls are fake. The search results are fake. And the news - well, of course.

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TRUMP: Fake news. Fake news. How fake - how fake are they?

(BOOING)

TRUMP: Fake news and the Russian witch hunt. We got a whole big combination.

KEITH: As of midday Friday, in the month of August, Trump had sent out more than 40 tweets containing the words fake or phony. This is a month when former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman came out with a tell-all book, Trump's former campaign chairman was convicted on eight counts and his longtime personal attorney entered a plea agreement. But this is also part of a trend. As Trump's presidency has gone on, such declarations have increased.

BRENDAN NYHAN: Donald Trump more and more is calling into question every other source of information besides himself.

KEITH: Brendan Nyhan, a professor at the University of Michigan, studies misinformation and trust in the media. Nyhan says some people - Trump's core supporters - believe him unflinchingly. For others, the tweets and statements raise doubts and sow confusion about what the truth really is.

NYHAN: I think Americans are often very concerned when they see leaders with authoritarian tendencies telling their supporters things that are false over and over again and attacking other sources of information. And if that worries you when you see it abroad, it should worry you when you see it here, too.

KEITH: Trump is far from the first president to grouse about the way the press covers him, says presidential historian Michael Beschloss. But Trump has a unique ability to deliver these complaints directly to the public via friendly hosts on Fox News and the wide reach of his social media streams.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: To some extent, he looks at those as a sort of a personal megaphone. He has got social media that can reach perhaps a hundred million people. We've never seen a president before with that kind of weapon.

KEITH: Often when Trump says something is fake, it isn't false; he just doesn't like it. On May 9, he posted a tweet that pulled back the curtain on this phenomena. He said, quote, "91 percent of the network news about me is negative," parentheses, "fake." At a press conference in June, he put it this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: They don't cover stories the way they're supposed to be. They don't even report them in many cases if they're positive. So there's tremendous - there's - you know, we - I came up with the term fake news. It's a lot of fake news.

KEITH: Trump used to say the monthly unemployment figures were fake, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Because the number's a phony number - 5 percent. Every time I watch that unemployment is down to 5 percent - it's not down to 5 percent. It's probably 20 or 21 percent. Some people think it's higher.

KEITH: But that was before the election. Now that Trump is president, he no longer calls the unemployment rate phony. He touts low unemployment as one of his great achievements and complains the fake news media doesn't cover it enough. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.