John Oliver used the first episode of the new season of Last Week Tonight to dissect what he sees as Donald Trump's aversion to facts. Pointing out that the president "has made it clear that reality is not important to him" is nothing new; media outlets do it all the time. But Oliver wanted to delve a little deeper into the anatomy of Trump's grand pronouncements—that are not supported by evidence—about such things as the size of his inauguration crowd, voter fraud, the unemployment rate, the national GDP, the murder rate. Policy is being made based on such false information, and, as Oliver points out, people are getting hurt because of it.
Politifact found that 25.2 percent of the statements made by President Barack Obama were false by some measure. For Trump, the number is 69.9 percent. Where do Trump's falsehoods come from?
Oliver says Trump's worldview is reinforced primarily by cable news or questionable websites like Breitbart or Infowars. The former routinely runs headlines like "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy," while the host of the latter, Alex Jones, believes the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook massacre were orchestrated by the government, among other conspiracy theories. Trump's reliance on cable news has been made clear through his tweets, which often reflect just-aired Fox News segments. As Oliver breaks it down, "Trump sees something that jibes with his worldview, doesn’t check it, half-remembers it and then passes it on, at which point it takes on a life of its own and appears to validate itself.”
Oliver uses as an example Trump's claims that millions of illegal votes were cast in the election, an idea for which there is no factual evidence. The claim originated from a Twitter user. It was then picked up by Infowars. It was debunked, but Trump tweeted about it. Then others talked about it on TV. This allowed the claim to gain legitimacy, at least for a certain section of the population. “If you get your news from similar sources to him, which many people do, he doesn’t look like a crank," Oliver says. "He looks like the first president ever to tell you the real truth.”
Trump's belief that "thousands" of New Jersey Muslims celebrated 9/11 terrorist attacks took on a similar life. When Bill O'Reilly pointed out that there was no evidence to support the claim, Trump doubled down, citing a Breitbart article that said he was "100% vindicated." O'Reilly said once again that there was still no real evidence and that this was never reported, but Trump said he was right because the article said people were swarming all over the place. "I don't know what that means," Trump said. "But it means a lot of people."
Oliver points out: “Even if you take the kindest approach here and assume Trump made an honest, innocent mistake and passed on a news story without checking it, when he was presented with a lack of evidence, he disregarded that fact, at which point he is lying."
So how can frustrated Americans combat this problem? Oliver says it's up to the media to continue to check Trump's facts, even though the effectiveness of doing so has been diminished as the Trump administration continues to vilify the press. Beyond that, he says the people and organizations who oppose Trump need to stay vigilant with their protests, their lawsuits and their diligence in double-checking the sourcing of what they see on social media before they share it themselves.
Oliver also has another solution. Because Trump loves cable news so much, Last Week Tonight bought ad space during some of the president's favorite morning programs. His show will use the space to air ads that detail the basics of issues about which Trump should probably be familiar, like the nuclear triad or the names of his children. “Until we are shut down, we are prepared to educate Donald Trump one-by-one on topics we’re pretty sure he doesn’t know about," says Oliver. Make sure you don't skip the commercials next time you tune in to Morning Joe.