I’m out of excuses for the people in the Trump White House, and now things are starting to get really scary.
In its relentless effort to delegitimize the press, the Trump administration has issued a long, long list of lies about terrorism attacks that supposedly went underreported. This was designed to back up President Donald Trump’s lie or delusion that the news media hasn’t been covering terrorist attacks and that “they have their reasons.” The list is a horror show, one so embarrassingly rife with misspellings and falsehoods that it reads like a term paper thrown together at the last second by a 10th grader recovering from a nightlong binge of Minecraft. (Hint to the pros in the White House: The word “attacker” has a “c” in it. You misspelled it 29 times.)
In terms of truthfulness, the only word that can be used for this dreck is propaganda. The list is full of pure, unadulterated falsehoods worthy of the Soviet Union, for the purpose of demonizing two “enemies” at the same time: Muslims and the press. I try to avoid Nazi analogies, but strategically, the administration’s list has all the hallmarks of the Reichstag fire: an event used by party leaders to deceive the public that “others” were the enemy of the state. And given that my colleagues and I are all included in that group of “others”—and that we are the people whom the president has called his enemies—maybe it’s time to start taking his hyperbole seriously.
The list of “underreported” terrorist attacks includes such “secret” assaults as the 2015 massacre in San Bernardino, California, that is still the subject of news articles. The story was on the front pages for weeks, led television news programs and was on the cover of various magazines. The White House also included the nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, which was the largest terrorist slaughter in America since 9/11 and received overwhelming coverage. Then there was the mass slaughter in Paris in November 2015. You know, the one that killed 139 people with bombs and bullets, which led to a three-month state of emergency in France. Just like with San Bernardino and Orlando, the number of articles, television broadcasts and magazine articles was so huge that Nexis doesn’t allow you to see them all. (It has a 3,000 result limit.)
Plenty of others on this “underreported” list received massive coverage: in 2016, the Nice, France, truck attack; the coordinated bombings in Belgium (I wrote two articles about that one); the French train attack where three Americans thwarted terrorists; and the Berlin truck attack that killed 12 people. Either the White House staffers spend all their time watching the Cartoon Network and have no idea what’s been reported, or they are lying and using this propaganda to deceive the American public for reasons that have yet to reveal.
Every attack on the list has been covered extensively. Some, of course, with less detail than others; the wounding of an Italian citizen in Bangladesh was written about 187 times in the news media. (I can’t believe I’m about to discuss why this would merit “only” 200 articles.) The press, across the board, tends to provide less coverage to events in third world countries like Bangladesh because financial cutbacks have led to fewer reporters in places like that. Moreover, journalists will write and broadcast more about attacks involving an American, particularly when one gets killed. That one man from a foreign country was wounded in a third world country many Americans can’t even spell is not going to be the lead story on the CBS Evening News.
Now, some of the attacks on the list weren’t reported as terrorism because, well, they weren’t terrorist attacks. The White House just seems to have been searching for any violence connected to someone with an Arabic name and immediately assuming terrorism was involved, a reflex that should terrify Muslims about this administration’s mindset. For example, two people were killed in Queensland, Australia, in August 2016 by a man named Smail Ayad. He was a mentally ill man. His attack was a consequence of his mental illness.
The families of the people who were killed know this, which is why they have reacted in outrage at the Trump administration’s blatant attempt to lie about their tragedy. Rosie Ayliffe, whose daughter Mia was killed, wrote in an open letter to Trump, “My daughter's death will not be used to further this insane persecution of innocent people.” And on Facebook, the parents of the second victim, Tom Jackson, also expressed anger at the president for his falsehoods. “I’m pretty sure he and his advisors know full well—or could very easily verify—that Tom and Mia died not as the result of an act of terror but rather through the actions of a disturbed individual,” Tom’s father, Les Jackson wrote. “Of course, that doesn’t suit his agenda.”
The most disturbing part of this is not the White House’s willingness to lie in order to back up the fantasies of the boss. It’s that the administration is willing to lie in such obvious ways. Millions of people will now believe that reporters are secretly on the side of terrorists for some reason, and are hiding news of their attacks to advance their agenda.
But there is another element here that must be considered. Throughout the campaign, Trump uttered nonsense that some took as hyperbole. I’ve known the man since 1987, and had no doubt he meant every word of it: That he knew more than the generals about ISIS, that he knew more than anyone about the tax code, that he knew things the intelligence agencies didn’t that made him sure there was no Russian hacking. As I wrote last week, Trump has demonstrated he does not know the difference between what he imagines and what is real. I have no doubt he truly believes the only reason people have criticized his executive order imposing a travel ban from seven Muslim countries is because they don’t know how serious the problem is. And he truly thinks they don’t know how serious the problem is because his enemy—the press—has been secretly conspiring to keep terrorism a secret. So, instead of having a one-day blowback from the silly comment Trump made about terrorism attacks going unreported, the White House team has now once again shown itself to be uninformed or ready to lie whenever the president demands. In the process, the administration has flushed away whatever credibility it might have retained until now.
Hope Hicks, a White House spokesperson, didn’t return an email seeking comment on the list. Because, of course, she didn’t. That’s how this administration works.