Donald Trump is a professional liar. He does it so often, so brazenly, and so transparently that one imagines he might not even be aware he is doing it. At first it was shocking how often he lies. Then, when it became clear that it wasn’t hurting his electoral prospects, it became baffling. Now it’s just exhausting. It’s like fighting against the Greek Hydra monster of myth: if you try to disprove one of Trump’s lies, he tells two or three more to replace it.
The media are aware of this. “Why does Donald Trump lie so much?“ asks Forbes. “Donald Trump lies,” Vox writes. “All the time.” At the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin explains “how the GOP became indifferent to lies.” Media Matters excitedly reports “journalists are calling out Trump’s debate lies.”
Now, as David Frum correctly noted earlier this year, Trump’s lies are “qualitatively different than anything before seen from a major-party nominee.” This is true. But the media accusing Republicans of “lying” is nothing new.
They did it in 2012, for one: Rolling Stone rounded up Mitt Romney’s “biggest lies” from one of the debates; Time magazine attempted to uncover “the root of Mitt Romney’s comfort with lying;” U.S. News and World Report did a general survey of “Mitt Romney’s lies.” The Huffington Post wrote a piece “discovering why Mitt Romney lies so much.” And so forth.
This all leads to a simple question: why is the media intransigent about Republicans’ lies but mostly indifferent about Democrats’ lies? This is not a partisan question; it’s a purely objective one. Democrats lie all the time, and the media do not really seem to care that much—not enough to generate numerous outraged headlines, anyway. If you’re a Democrat, you can be confident that, if you tell a lie, the press will not hound you about it. You’ll probably even get some good coverage. Instead of “Liberal Politician Tells a Lie,” the headlines will read, “Republicans Pounce on Liberal Politician’s Unclear Statement.”
Some Cases In Point
Consider a few of the lies liberal politicians have more or less been able to get away with.
Bill Clinton—a man who lies almost as habitually as does Trump—claimed under oath that he had not had an extramarital sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. That was a lie.
But Clinton perjuring himself and besmirching a court of the United States of America (all over a sleazy affair with a vulnerable young woman) hasn’t diminished his career at all. Indeed, he is very rich these days. Moreover, liberals seem to love the fact that Clinton lied: they revel in his dishonesty, they make excuses for it, and they sneer that he was impeached “just because he got a blowjob.”
In 2012, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claimed Romney hadn’t paid income taxes for ten years. That was a lie. But that didn’t matter. Four years later, Reid was even gleefully unrepentant about having lied, and nobody really cares about it.
When Obamacare began falling apart and people began losing their health insurance plans by the millions, President Obama claimed he had warned the country that certain insurance plans might get cancelled. That was a lie. In fact, he had said precisely the opposite: that Americans could keep the plans they liked.
Well. The New York Times claimed that Obama’s brazen lie was “additional explanation;” Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post said the president’s lie was not a lie but a “lie,” with scare quotes. Capehart then went on to argue that George W. Bush was the real presidential liar.
In 2014, when Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber inadvertently spilled the beans about Obamacare’s lies, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—in a fit of spectacular cowardice—denied knowing who he was. That was a lie, and it was so obvious a lie wrought by so transparent a cowardice that the media should have had a field day. Nobody made much of a big deal out of it.
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Get Away
More recently, and more pertinent to this election: Hillary Clinton has lied about her e-mail scandal on a breadth unprecedented even within the Democratic Party. In many ways her lies about her e-mail server are more troubling and more consequential than Trump’s scattershot dishonesty. You get the sense that Trump lies about things because he’s not too bright and can’t think very quickly. Clinton, on the other hand, lies about her e-mail server because she has most likely compromised American national security, endangered American lives, and wants to avoid going to jail.
She claimed to have turned over all of her work-related e-mails. That was a lie. She claimed she hadn’t transmitted any classified information. That was a lie. She claimed she hadn’t transmitted any information marked classified. That was a lie. (She has lied about that repeatedly.) She claimed that she had never been subpoenaed in regards to her e-mail. That, too, was a lie. She claimed the FBI had considered her account “truthful.” Another lie.
Oh, also: President Obama originally denied having any knowledge about Clinton’s private e-mail server. That was a big-time lie. Clinton’s e-mail scandal has been one gigantic lie from start to finish.
These are just a few examples of liberal dishonesty; plenty more could easily be produced. While it is true that newspapers and other media outlets have fact-checked many of these lies, it is impossible to argue that the responses from the media have been the same.
Mainstream publications haven’t devoted much space to pondering the mysteries of Hillary Clinton’s serial, relentless, all-encompassing dishonesty or Reid’s jaw-dropping reluctance to just admit that he lied about Romney. The message is clear: it’s no big deal if a liberal does it.
To be fair, the media are perfectly welcome to engage in such a transparent double standard. Then again, they should not act surprised if nobody listens to them when they correctly point out that Trump is a relentlessly untrustworthy liar. People just assume the media are being duplicitous when they accuse Trump of dishonesty. And it’s a perfectly accurate assumption.