On Trump Being an Anonymous Source and the Political Press Being Stenographers for an Authoritarian Liar

Donald Trump has a long history of positioning himself as an "anonymous" source of information flattering to himself. When he was just a private megalomaniac desperately seeking the approval of New York City's elite, he used to call journalists and pretend to be his own publicist using a fake name:
A recording obtained by The Washington Post captures what New York reporters and editors who covered Trump's early career experienced in the 1970s, '80s and '90s: Calls from Trump's Manhattan office that resulted in conversations with "John Miller" or "John Barron" — public-relations men who sound precisely like Trump himself — who indeed are Trump, masquerading as an unusually helpful and boastful advocate for himself, according to the journalists and several of Trump's top aides.

...Some reporters found the calls from Miller or Barron disturbing or even creepy; others thought they were just examples of Trump being playful.
"Playful" is certainly one way of describing a profligate liar with an insatiable ego who has zero compunction about manipulating the press for his own self-aggrandizement.

Now that this vainglorious fabulist is President of the United States, there is nothing "playful" about his continued attempts to manipulate the press, even as he continues to wage war on their independence.

A number of news outlets are clearly eager to act as stenographers for Trump while concealing him as their source, because they want to broadcast exclusive scoops. Still others appear willing to act as stenographers to convince Trump to back down from his relentless assaults.

In either case, it's chilling to see the complicity of significant portions of the political press — and their unconscionable willingness to conceal that Trump, a shameless and reflexive liar, is their source.

During a recent Late Night segment, political reporter McKay Coppins told Seth Meyers about how Donald Trump routinely acts as a source for the flattering news he wants disseminated, but tells journalists to cite an anonymous source, and they accommodate him.

The relevant portion starts at 3:35.

Meyers: I want to talk about sourcing real quick, because, you know, it seems like we hear so much coming out of this White House, more than maybe we've ever had, uh, we've ever heard. Is it because, from the very top, he is a source? That he is talking to the press so often that the people underneath him feel the freedom to do the same?

Coppins: [grinning and chuckling throughout this whole tale] Yeah, absolutely. You know, it's funny, like, Trump does this thing where, after his day's work is done, he'll retire to the residence of the White House and just kind of make freewheeling phone calls to like random people.

Meyers: Yeah.

Coppins: Um, and sometimes they're like fellow billionaire pals, and sometimes they're media people, and sometimes they're reporters. And, and, it's funny, I've had experiences with this, even when I was interviewing him at Mar-a-Lago, where he'll be talking and he'll tell you a story and he'll be like, "Okay, this part's off the record. Well, now this part — just attribute it to someone else." Or whatever. And he'll just — he'll be, he'll just put random stuff out there and that — a lot of the stories you see in, uh, in the press are — it'll say like, "somebody familiar with the situation," or like "a senior White House official," and it'll be the President of the United States.

[audience laughter]

Meyers: Yeah. A lurking, slow-moving mass of a man. [Coppins bursts out laughing] Did — and do you think, like — but that actually seems like he's thinking about it more than we may be giving him credit for. So while he's telling a story, he is at least aware enough to know which parts to pull off the record and put on the record...?

Coppins: Yeah, in my experience, at least, it was the parts that he wanted me to write that were flattering about him but that he didn't want to have it attributed to him.

Meyers: Got it.

Coppins: So [laughs] it'll be like some heroic story about him, or a story about some celebrity who said he was the greatest ever of something, you know? "Put that off the record! Just don't use my name on that!"

Meyers: [laughs] So he wants it out there, but he wants it —

Coppins: Exactly.

Meyers: — to seem like it came from another source.

Coppins: Right.
This is an ostensibly serious political journalist laughing about how he prints flattering garbage the compulsive liar sitting in the Oval Office wants him to print, and then contrives to conceal that said compulsive liar is the source of that information.

In his new book, The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game, Ronald Kessler confirms Coppins' report, writing that Trump "has a number of journalists he frequently contacts, and leaks to on the condition that he be identified only as one of his own unnamed staff members."
"Trump phones Maggie Haberman of the New York Times directly, as well as Philip Rucker of the Washington Post, and Jonathan Swan of Axios, feeding them stories attributed to 'a senior White House official,' creating the impression the White House leaks even more than it already does," Kessler writes.
Consider the number of times you have heard theories of chronic chaos and insubordination and incompetence and variations on the specter of a White House out of Trump's control, based on the premise of relentless leaking — and now consider what it means if many, or even most, of those leaks were Trump himself.

And consider what it means that significant portions of the established political press are willing to indulge an authoritarian liar, at the expense of transparency, denying the public any chance of understanding what's truly happening with the government meant to represent us.

How might it change your perception of the Trump administration if every story you've ever read about an increasingly unhinged Trump bellowing at cowering staff was a straight-up lie planted by Trump himself, who then sat back laughing at responses that understandably presume he has lost control of the most powerful office on the planet?

Getting off on people's profound misunderstandings based on misdirections he planted with an obliging press sounds exactly like Donald Trump.

Bullies love pranks — and what is a prank but getting one up on someone who is vulnerable, by virtue of their trusting the prankster because of an existing relationship or by virtue of being deliberately denied relevant information or by virtue of having an expectation of safety or security or normalcy.

We are vulnerable for all of these reasons.

We are vulnerable because we are meant to be able to trust the person who holds the office of the president, and because we are meant to be able to trust the press.

We are vulnerable because we are being denied relevant information — namely that Donald Trump is feeding lies to the media who then report those lies as though they may be true.

We are vulnerable because we have an expectation of safety and security and normalcy, all of which Trump has undermined and continues to subvert with the assistance of the compliant cadre of stenographers who have abandoned all pretense of challenging power on behalf of the powerless.

We are vulnerable — and we are fucked. Because our president is a goddamned liar, and, instead of reporting that, the media endeavors to conceal it.

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