The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman has proved her chops by writing an entire article about Donald Trump’s habitual rejection of truth without once using the word “lies.” We are talking about 1,300 words headlined “A president who believes he is entitled to his own facts” that does not say straight out that many of his “own facts” are lies.
Even the word “false” only pops up once:
Over the course of 21 months, President Trump has loudly and repeatedly refused to accept a number of seemingly agreed-upon facts, while insisting on the veracity of a variety of demonstrably false claims that happen to suit his political needs.
Seven times in the article, Haberman uses variations on the word “believe,” as in “he long ago came to believe that ‘facts’ are really arbitrary” and “Even DNA evidence does not sway Mr. Trump from his beliefs.”
Haberman herself busily dances around a truly blunt assessment of Trump’s habits, cloaking her take on Trump’s relationship to reality in the warm fuzzy velvet of “believes” and the analysis that Trump “has appeared to grow noticeably more comfortable in the role of president, according to advisers, and that comfort level has reinforced his confidence in his own instincts, including what he regards as facts.” She leaves the harsh assessments to former CIA director Michael Hayden, who, for instance, “said that Mr. Trump could be coaxed into believing objective reality, but that it ‘is not the instinctive departure point for what Donald Trump does.’” And:
“He’s got a personal relationship,” Mr. Hayden said, “and he’s built it himself, with three heads of state who have murdered somebody within another person’s country within the last year.”
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In some ways, Haberman is offering up a devastating take on Trump. She may believe—there’s that word again—that she’s offering a more nuanced take into Trump’s thought processes than we’d get from saying he lies. And it is important to understand that some of Trump’s falsehoods are not knowing lies but rather a symptom of the degree to which he’s untethered from reality. But a take that doesn’t also say straight up that the man lies is a take that’s missing a huge chunk of what’s going on.
Then again, maybe this is another example in the long history of Maggie Haberman carrying Trump's water—it’s getting harder to do so quite as blatantly as she once did, but the mere fact of doing it at all is becoming harder to hide.