I hope it’s true! There may be no utterance more quintessential in understanding Trump’s relationship with the truth. His penchant for repeating exaggerations and fabrications is explained away with self-affirmation and hope. (“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” Trump tweeted in August 2012, more than a year after that fateful New Hampshire press conference.)
Politicians are infamously casual with facts, but Trump is prolific in his sharing of misinformation. As of August 1, Trump had made 4,229 false or misleading claims since he took office, according to The Washington Post’s ongoing tally. That’s more than seven false claims per day. The rate of these claims is going up, and quickly, almost double what it was at the start of his presidency, according to the newspaper’s analysis. The repeated sharing of bad information is one of the ways Trump commands attention.
There are others.
In another millennia, the American president used radio broadcasting to spread his message, and cutely called it a fireside chat. Today’s president self-publishes to Twitter, where his Saturday morning tweets have become something of a ritual. This morning’s iteration of the genre implicitly concerned Twitter itself, and the social publishing platform’s recent decision to protect—and then temporarily suspend—the publishing power of one of its most controversial users, the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Jones and Trump are like fraternal twins in the media world. Both men are provocative and bombastic. Jones, like Trump, captivates his audiences with conspiracies—and repeats such claims ad nauseam despite evidence to the contrary. Both men rail against the media using violent rhetoric—which is particularly dangerous coming from the president of the United States, and particularly rich coming from Jones, who is himself a radio host and media personality. Jones is arguably more extreme than Trump in his peddling of misinformation—Jones leaves far less room for plausible deniability in the dubious claims he makes—but the similarities between the two men are undeniable. Echoing Trump’s mantra that journalists are the “enemy of the people,” Jones said in a recent video that his supporters should get their “battle rifles” ready because “the mainstream media is the enemy” and “now it’s time to act.”
Though the president of the United States mentioned neither Twitter nor Jones by name in his three-part tweet Saturday morning, the context was clear.
Social media is “discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices,” he said. “Too many voices are being destroyed,” he continued. And finally: “Let everybody participate, good & bad, and we will all just have to figure it out!” Instead of mentioning Jones, the president made an ambiguous reference to “some good” and “some bad” people who publish ideas and information on social platforms—an echo of his Charlottesville “both sides” remark. (Trump still took a swipe at CNN and MSNBC, characterizing their work as “sick behavior.”)