Business

Echoes of George Orwell: Trump denies saying something he said on tape

Posted June 3, 2019 2:34 a.m. EDT

— A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Part of President Trump's prep for his state visit: Interviews with two of Rupert Murdoch's papers, the Sun and the Sunday Times. It was The Sun's Tom Newton Dunn who asked about Meghan Markle and prompted another one of those "who do you believe" moments — the president or your own ears?

After Dunn described Markle's past criticism of Trump, the president said "I didn't know she was nasty." When the audio clip came out, news outlets like CNN noted the word "nasty" and Trump's kind words about Markle. What happened next is incredible. Trump's campaign came out and denied that he called her "nasty" — by posting the audio and transcript — which confirmed what he said. But they denied it anyway.

On Sunday this got even crazier. Minutes after Fox aired a "MEDIA TWISTS TRUMP'S WORDS" segment, Trump tweeted, "I never called Meghan Markle 'nasty.' Made up by the Fake News Media, and they got caught cold!"

I wasn't going to mention the "nasty" quote on the TV edition of "Reliable Sources" — until Trump tried gaslighting everyone. I commented that a throwaway insult by Trump isn't a big deal. But the "don't believe you ears" destruction of truth IS a big deal. It can't be ignored.

He even doubled down on Sunday night, when a reporter asked about it on his way out of Washington. "No, I made no bad comments," he said.

As Orwell wrote in "1984:" "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."

How does this benefit anyone?

Let me be cynical for a moment: This story is irresistible to news junkies and irrelevant to most everyone else. Trump critics are outraged by his crass comment about Markle. Trump fans are able to excuse it and claim "fake news." Journalists like yours truly respond by showing that it's real news. And the political discourse gets a little bit more polarized.

And speaking of the war on truth...

"Chernobyl" finale on Monday

Brian Lowry says the "Chernobyl" finale finishes powerfully. I haven't started the HBO mini-series yet, but it's at the top of my list. NYT science writer Henry Fountain — who has toured the site of the nuclear disaster — wrote this Sunday story that says "a lot" of the details in the drama are "made up." But "in the end, though, none of this really matters. For the mini-series gets a basic truth right — that the Chernobyl disaster was more about lies, deceit and a rotting political system than it was about bad engineering or abysmal management and training..."

→ Eric Boehm's latest for Reason: "Chernobyl is about what happens when citizens believe telling the truth Is futile..."

Where's Wolff?

Parts of Michael Wolff's new book "Siege" leaked almost a week ago. Critics have cited "cringeworthy" errors and the special counsel's office has said that key documents described in the book "do not exist." Wolff will start to respond on Monday when he appears on NPR's "Morning Edition."

In the NPR interview, Steve Inskeep asked many questions about Wolff's sourcing, "and Wolff defended his methods without getting into much detail about how he is able to capture the thoughts and utterances of close Trump advisers and even the president himself." Wolff: "Everything in this book is something that I concluded is accurate and true..."

→ Reporters by and large are reacting to "Siege" with a mix of skepticism and shrugs. Newsrooms should treat the book as a "series of tips and rumors from a semi-reliable narrator," Noah Shachtman said on "Reliable Sources." Sarah Ellison and Elaina Plott also weighed in...

Wolff says Trump is "functionally a madman"

Via NPR: "In the 'Morning Edition' interview, Wolff says those who have spent the most time with President Trump describe him as 'vile and ludicrous.' Wolff says over the course of writing two books he has come to believe Trump is governing on impulse and whim, that there is no method to the madness and that someone who is 'functionally a madman' is president of the United States."

FOR THE RECORD

-- First I noticed my Nest cam was down... then my Gmail... later I realized the outages were connected: Google said YouTube, Gmail, Google Calendar "and nearly all its of other consumer-facing services experienced major service problems for about four hours after reports of outages flooded in from users around the country..." (NBC)

-- Read more of Sunday's "Reliable Sources" newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...

-- Over the weekend Twitter "apologized for suspending accounts that were critical of the Chinese government's response to the Tiananmen Square protests of June 4, 1989," Victoria Cavaliere reports... (CNN)

-- Edmund Lee is out with a big new story about WarnerMedia's streaming service plans. A key Q: "How much should it cost for subscribers?" (NYT)

Media week ahead calendar

Monday: The annual HRTS network chiefs luncheon is at the Beverly Hilton...

Tuesday: George F. Will is out with a new book, "The Conservative Sensibility..."

Wednesday: "Black Mirror" season five arrives on Netflix...

Thursday: The FT's Future of News event in NYC has a jam-packed lineup of speakers...

Friday: "Dark Phoenix" premieres, the latest "X-Men" movie, and biggest Fox title released since Disney took over...

Friday night: The "XY Chelsea" documentary about Chelsea Manning premieres on Showtime...

Saturday: The Belmont Stakes...