Trump Time Capsule #105: Two Big Bold Lies

Donald Trump at his new hotel in Washington today, before a press conference at which he lied about the birther controversy. (Mike Segar / Reuters)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

I think this day, 52 days before the election, is one that people will look back on. At his press conference /  hotel promo / endorsement spectacle just now in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump said this, and only this, about the long-running “birther” controversy that for years he led and whipped up:

Now, not to mention her in the same breath, but Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.  I finished it.  You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.

In detail:

  1. Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.” This is a flat lie. In an internal memo, people in the 2008 Clinton campaign considered applying an “othering” strategy against their rival Obama. It did not involve any challenge to Obama’s birth or citizenship, and in any case it was not put into effect. What Trump said is a flat lie. More here and here and here, with links to countless other sources.
                                                                                                                           
  2. I finished it. I finished it.” This is a flat lie. Trump started this phony and racist controversy [or: brought much more attention to what had been a fringe view] and kept it going. (Racist? Yes. As Bernie Sanders pointed out today, Sanders’s own father, like Obama’s, was born overseas. But Sanders said that no one has ever asked him to prove that he was a “real” American.) Even after Trump claimed to have “finished” it with the appearance of Obama’s birth certificate five years ago, Trump has continued to put out Birther tweets and innuendos. You can see a sample at the end of this Vox piece; also here and here. Below is one from December 2013, two years after Trump supposedly “finished” the issue. As of this moment this is still live in Trump’s Twitter feed:
    Trump on Twitter
  3. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.” Unlike the other two, this is not a lie. It was read in exactly the tone of a negotiated hostage statement.
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An ongoing theme of these time capsules, and a major focus of the Primary Concerns podcast I did with Brian Beutler this week, is the difficulty the “normal” press has had in coming to terms with a man who simply and continually lies, without the normal internal checks that hold most people back.

In particular we discussed the differing arcs of the New York Times and the Washington Post in grappling with this issue. Over the past decade, the NYT has become more and more obviously the dominant American news organization, and the Post has coped with many constraints and cutbacks. But in the past few months the news page of the Post has seemed much more direct in calling out what is happening.

Beutler and I go into details of this in our discussion. But here is an example, the contrasting breaking-news notifications the two papers put out, with the Times at the top and the Post at the bottom.

The Post headline says “admits” and “falsely”; the NYT’s says “backed off.”  Via Dylan Scott on Twitter

And the polls continue to draw closer, and the Republican leadership continues to say: Sure, this guy is fine.