Sometimes it feels like the press has just completely surrendered to Donald Trump's relentless lies, and that reporters have essentially thrown up their hands, signaling that Trump has complete permission to fabricate whatever wild fantasies he wants and journalists won't really do much. Perhaps it's one part laziness, one part exhaustion? But watching what unfolded on Sept. 11, last week really highlighted just how detached from reality Trump is, and how little the press seems to care.
Speaking to dignitaries and survivors of the 9/11 blast at the Pentagon, Trump, in a brazen piece of self-aggrandizement, once again lied about how helped clear the rubble at Ground Zero. "Soon after, I went down to Ground Zero with men who worked for me to try to help in any little way that we could," Trump claimed.
This is what the Walter Mitty of American politics said back in 2016:
Everyone who helped clear the rubble -- and I was there, and I watched, and I helped a little bit -- but I want to tell you: Those people were amazing. Clearing the rubble. Trying to find additional lives. You didn't know what was going to come down on all of us -- and they handled it.
It's a complete fabrication. The only times Trump was documented as being down at Ground Zero in the immediate wake of the terror attack was to give media interviews, dressed in a suit and tie. Also, the idea that he sent a brigade of his "men" to help with the search and rescue is a joke because the Trump Organization at the time only had a dozen or so employees.
Trump has lied steadily about 9/11 over the years, and not just about his phony bravery. There are numerous other 9/11 untruths that fight for his attention, like his claim that "hundreds" of his friends died during the attack. (He can't name a single one.) Like his lie that the (nonexistent) wives of the 9/11 terrorists were tipped off ahead of time. And of course his infamous 2016 campaign lie that "thousands" of Muslims were celebrating the 9/11 attack in the streets of Jersey City, New Jersey.
You know that if a President Hillary Clinton ever lied about assisting first responders on 9/11, The New York Times, for instance, would've likely published articles of impeachment written by its own reporters and published them on the front page. There would have been weeks worth of analytical pieces about what personality shortcoming would cause a person to act in such a desperate and manic way. But with Trump, it barely qualified as news.
"He repeated an exaggerated account of how he had assisted the recovery effort after the World Trade Center was brought down by two of the planes," the Times politely reported last week. USA Today noted, "there is a lack of evidence that Trump helped or hired people to help on the days following the terrorist attack," but wouldn't call Trump out on his lie. And the Wall Street Journal made no mention at all of Trump's fabrication in its 9/11 ceremony coverage.
Hours after Trump lied at the 9/11 ceremony, he took questions from reporters at the White House. Not one asked this painfully obvious question: "Mr. President, can you provide any photographic evidence that he ever went down to Ground Zero to help with the rescue effort?"
The solemn topic of Sept. 11 used be considered sacred ground in American politics, and nobody was allowed to fudge any facts because the symbolism was so strong. Recall that during the 2016 campaign, candidate Hillary Clinton was very sick and doctors told her to curtail her activities, yet she still showed up at a 9/11 ceremony in New York City because she understood how gravely important it was to attend. Of course, she was soon caught on camera stumbling while leaving the event, and her illness became a huge media story.
The sad part is that over the years Trump has learned he can lie about 9/11 with impunity from the press. Back in 2015, appearing on CBS's Face The Nation, then-Republican frontrunner Trump told host John Dickerson that prior to the attacks, the wives of the 9/11 hijackers “knew exactly what was going to happen” and were flown “back to Saudi Arabia. And those wives went home to watch their husbands knock down the World Trade Center," which was complete nonsense, since virtually all of the hijackers were unmarried. But on Face the Nation, host Dickerson didn't question Trump's absurd and dangerous claim.
Following his CBS appearance, the Times reported that Trump was “fuzzy” on his 9/11 facts and that the wives tale didn't “align” with “the timeline and details of the hijacking of the planes.” Additionally, the Times politely suggested Trump was simply “having trouble keeping some details straight about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.” Incredibly, nowhere in the dispatch did the daily explain that the Trump wives story was fabricated. (The soft Times piece was written by Patrick Healy, who has since been promoted to politics editor.)
Candidate Trump, of course, unveiled one of his hallmark campaign untruths, claiming he saw video of “thousands and thousands” of people in New Jersey celebrating when the World Trade Center towers fell. “Thousands” implied a fifth column plotting against the United States—a sprawling, dangerous faction of traitors who likely needed to be locked up.
But the whole thing was a fabrication. Yet what was missing from the coverage back then? This simple headline: “Trump Lies About Muslim Reaction To 9/11.” Instead, we saw these headlines that emphasize Trump's 9/11 “claim” and his “remarks”:
"Trump Says 9/11 Claims Being Proven" [Boston Herald]
“Trump On Muslim Claim: 'I'm Not Going To Take It Back'” [CNN]
"Trump Sticks By Controversial 9/11 Remarks, Christie Says He's Wrong" [McClatchy Newspapers]
“Donald Trump Doubles Down On 9/11 Claim” [CBS]
Honestly, if Trump’s allowed to lie about 9/11, he’ll lie about anything.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.