'Start Calling Lies What They Are,' Says Conservative Columnist David Harsanyi of the conservative website The Federalist tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro that the press should hold all politicians accountable for lying, not just the ones they dislike.

'Start Calling Lies What They Are,' Says Conservative Columnist

'Start Calling Lies What They Are,' Says Conservative Columnist

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David Harsanyi of the conservative website The Federalist tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro that the press should hold all politicians accountable for lying, not just the ones they dislike.


There's a rule in journalism that you never want to become the news. But with the new Trump administration, it seems that the quote, unquote, "media" is very often at the heart of the story. I would remind our listeners that freedom of the press is protected by the First Amendment along with speech and religion, fundamental U.S. freedoms. So we're going to be checking in regularly with different people who are observing this relationship between the president and the press.

We're joined this week by David Harsanyi. He's a senior editor at The Federalist, a conservative web publication. And he wrote a piece this past week which caught our eye. It's titled "Let's Hold All Politicians Accountable For Lying. Not Just The Ones We Dislike."

David Harsanyi, welcome.

DAVID HARSANYI: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us your basic argument.

HARSANYI: Well, I guess my basic argument is that a lie is a lie, no matter how complex it is or how simple it is or how crass it's told or how good it sounds to the ear. And simply because Donald Trump is not very good at lying or that he lies about very weird or stupid things that are very obvious, like voter fraud, doesn't mean that his lies are any worse than other politicians who have more nuanced and complex ways of misleading the American people. In fact, I would argue that people who know or are good at lying are probably more dangerous than people who aren't and are easily called out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're basically saying, perhaps the press reaction to President Donald Trump's misstatements, falsehoods is overblown?

HARSANYI: It depends which one. I mean, I do think that - for instance, I'll give you an example - the argument over the crowd size, whether Barack Obama or Donald Trump had a larger crowd for their inauguration in Washington. Clearly, Barack Obama in 2009 had a far larger audience. That's a lie. I'm not sure how important it is. Is it more important than a lie about policy? Is it more important than Barack Obama's lie about being able to keep your plan if you wanted to?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're talking about health care there.

HARSANYI: I am. Even at the time, people were saying that's impossible. But yet, no one would ever have called it a lie because it is - conceptually, it's the sort of thing that we understand in politics. It's misleading, but it's not sort of a just a blatant lie like the one Donald Trump told about the crowd size.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is this, though, about untruths being told? Or is there some fundamental shift in the way this administration is talking to and about the media? Donald Trump doesn't just say we are bad professionals. He says we are bad people. His senior strategist Steve Bannon doesn't say we are irresponsible. He says we are the opposition.

HARSANYI: Right. I mean, I think the press should be the opposition in a way. It should always be the opposition to power. Now, will the Trump administration move against freedom of speech in any way through either legislation or some kind of executive order or regulations or in any way? I think that's a completely different discussion that we need to have. But I don't see that happening. I mean, if Steve Bannon tells the press to shut up and listen, that's wrong to say because we want a free press and we want them to say what they want. But he has no power over the press. So I'm not that concerned about his bluster.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, as someone who has covered authoritarian regimes - I've been in Egypt and Turkey and Venezuela - you know, I think what some people are worried about is that it always starts by undermining the press. The rhetoric shifts pretty quickly from the opposition press to the traitor press. Is that a concern to you, the fact that they're focusing so heavily on attacking the mainstream media?

HARSANYI: Yeah. Listen, I am definitely concerned by the sort of obsession that this administration has with fighting the media. But I'm also concerned that the media takes the bait all the time. Every time he tweets on a - you know, you can turn to CNN or Fox and there's, you know, a breaking news alert that Donald Trump has tweeted something.

I just don't think that that's going to be helpful for people who actually want to, you know, keep this administration accountable. It's not the way that news should probably be covered. We can't, you know, overreact to every little thing that the guy does. Obviously, he's not a traditional president. He wasn't a traditional candidate. He says a lot of goofy things. But there are also a lot of people in that administration moving forward with real policies. And that, I think, gets overlooked too often.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: David Harsanyi of The Federalist, thank you for being with us.

HARSANYI: Thank you.

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