Here’s How Donald Trump Might End Up Winning the Birther Controversy

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


I’m heartened to see a few more journalists explicitly acknowledging that Donald Trump lied when he said Hillary Clinton was responsible for starting the birther conspiracy theory. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news:

You all know Lesley Stahl’s story about a tough news segment she did on Ronald Reagan during the 1984 campaign, don’t you? Instead of being mad, the White House press gurus were delighted. “You guys in Televisionland haven’t figured it out, have you?” Dick Darman told her. “When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound. I mean it, Lesley. Nobody heard you.”

I’m afraid we have a similar dynamic working here. The big story should be that Donald Trump pushed the birther lie for years, and when he finally recanted he tossed in another lie about Hillary Clinton starting it. And that’s largely how it’s being reported. But on TV, Trump’s minions are simply shouting over and over that Hillary did too start it. Then a former McClatchy editor who pretty clearly hates Clinton chimes in to say that conservative idée fixe Sid Blumenthal was peddling the birther rumor in 2008. This in turn prompts the Weekly Standard to opine that “it doesn’t seem far fetched that the Clinton campaign played a much bigger role in midwifing birtherism than they or the media would like to admit.” By tomorrow the entire right-wing fever swamp will be salivating over this.

So this is the new version of the Stahl parable: Words matter, but all that matters is that there are two sides yelling at each other. Casual viewers will come away from this thinking not that Donald Trump is a liar, but just vaguely remembering that there was some kind of controversy about whether Hillary Clinton started the birther rumors. What did they ever find out about that, anyway?

And all the people who hazily think Clinton is corrupt, but can’t quite tell you why, will have one more hazy indictment bouncing around their brain. And with that, Trump wins the news cycle again. All it took was six words and an army of supporters willing to defend anything he says no matter how scurrilous. Welcome to 2016.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate