The challenge of our times is to consider the source. Is it trustworthy or not?
Information, good and bad, pours in from everywhere, and an awful lot of people will say anything, regardless of facts. Our job, as consumers and citizens, is to separate the true from the false, the real from the fake, the honest brokers from the hucksters.
On that score, we’re hard pressed to think of an American political leader who has failed the test of veracity worse than President Donald Trump. The man just makes stuff up, intentionally lying or believing in the moment whatever he might think to say, and his administration is paying the price. A president who has no credibility is a president who cannot lead.
Trump compulsively traded in falsehoods as a candidate, and he hasn’t let up as president. But in dramatic fashion in the last two weeks, it has really begun to catch up with him.
When the Washington Post reported on Monday that Trump had foolishly divulged top secrets to Russian diplomats during a meeting in the Oval Office, the newspaper relied entirely on anonymous sources for its story. When the White House then shot back that the story was false, you might have expected the benefit of doubt to accrue to the president. Who’s to believe unnamed sources over the word of a sitting president?
But as Politico pointed out Tuesday, other highly credible mainstream news operations promptly passed along the Post’s story, clearly comfortable in assigning as much credibility to the anonymously-sourced allegations as to Trump’s denial; and the New York Times and Reuters quickly confirmed the story, relying on their own anonymous sources.
Much to Trump’s displeasure, this story wasn’t going away, and for good reason. The president’s credibility is all but shot, except among his most committed supporters and sycophantic media outlets such as Fox News. Democrats, of course, have long lamented Trump’s fundamental dishonesty, but Republicans on Capitol Hill are growing fed up as well, though few will say so publicly.
Trump’s public approval rating is in the tank — below 40 percent — and his failure to play it straight with just about anybody has no doubt contributed to his unpopularity. A Gallup poll in April found that only 36 percent of Americans believe Trump is “honest and trustworthy.”
Trump did a particularly fine job of playing with the truth last week when he explained why he fired FBI Director James Comey. First Trump said he dismissed Comey for the bumbled way the FBI director handled the problem of Hillary Clinton’s emails before the November election, which nobody believed.
Then Trump said he would have fired Comey anyway because the guy’s a “showboat,” which might have been closer to the truth. The only showboat allowed in a Trump administration is Trump. And, the president added, he also fired Comey because of “the Russian thing.”
Bingo. You can bet Trump wanted Comey gone because of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.
But Trump also appears to have fudged the truth about Comey in other small but important ways.
Soon after the election, Trump says, Comey asked to meet for dinner. But Comey says it was the president who asked to meet. Trump says Comey asked during the dinner to keep his job, but Comey says he did no such thing. Comey says Trump demanded a personal pledge of loyalty, which Comey says he refused to give. Trump says he demanded no such thing.
Trump could settle the matter by releasing any recordings of the conversation, which he has hinted in a tweet may exist.
But Trump, true to form, now refuses to confirm or deny there are any recordings.
When Trump behaves rashly, he risks doing harm to our nation’s best interests. Certainly, there’s an excellent case that he did just that last week during his meeting with the Russian diplomats.
According to the original Washington Post story, Trump disclosed intelligence about an Islamic terrorist plot that had been obtained from a confidential source. The president had not asked permission from the source to pass along the intelligence to the Russians, and he may have inadvertently outed the source — and compromised their future sharing of intelligence — by doing so.
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported the source was Israel, which put a good face on the matter. Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, told the Times that the two countries would continue to work closely together.
“Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States,” Dermer said, “and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump.”
That was the diplomatic thing to say, of course, and may be true. Or the Israelis are quietly seething.
In any event, Israel has new reason to be wary of taking this American president at his word, as do the American people.