Big Lie, Little Lie, and the Media’s Role in Telling the Difference

Before Donald Trump disavowed birtherism during a media-enabled infomercial for his hotel on Friday, BuzzFeed was already calling him out. “Three lies about birtherism to look out for in Donald Trump’s speech,” read the title of its preview. The headline of a front-page analysis in Saturday’s New York Times used similar language: “Trump Gives Up A Lie but Refuses to Repent.” The next day, Sunday talk show anchors, including CBS’s John Dickerson and CNN’s Jake Tapper, similarly called birtherism a “lie,” the latter in an interview with campaign surrogate Chris Christie, who dutifully insisted Trump hadn’t been pushing the conspiracy regularly since 2011.

“Regular readers know we shy away from using the word ‘lie,’” The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote soon after, “but clearly Christie is either lying or he is so misinformed that he has no business appearing on television.”

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