Days before winning the Indiana primary and securing the Republican nomination, Donald Trump had lunch with Ed Klein, the worst fiction writer in America. Klein, a former journalist, has spent the last decade and change writing "inside accounts" of the Clintons that are perhaps most notable for their awkward, awful, unbelievable stretches of dialogue. Here's a taste, from his 2014 book "Blood Feud", wherein Hillary talks about Benghazi over wine with some fellow Wellesley grads:
"I wish I hadn't flailed around at that Senate committee hearing on Benghazi and said, 'What difference did it make?'" Hillary replied. "But I said it, and Bill was very disappointed in my performance. In fact, he was shattered. But we don't fight anymore. We've gotten past that years ago. We accept each other as we are and chase our collective dream. All that sh*t of throwing things at him and yelling is in the distant past."
That's not what Hillary Clinton sounds like. In fact, that isn't how any human being has ever sounded like. And that exchange, like most everything Klein has "reported" about the Clintons, pretty clearly never happened. A normal candidate for president wouldn't be caught dead lunching with a hack like Klein, but Trump is Trump, someone with a real and demonstrated fondness for, er, alternative news sources.
On Sunday, after the news broke of the slaughter in Orlando, we saw Trump again embrace some dicey reports and amplify them on his Twitter feed. Did the killer, as Trump claimed on Twitter, scream "Allahu akbar" in the nightclub as he carried out his attack? It seems plausible - he had pledged allegiance to ISIS - but Trump just sort of floated it: here's this thing I heard! Maybe he read it somewhere. Maybe Jared Kushner just read it somewhere and told him. Who knows.
Trump, we can say at this point, doesn't really seem to care about a piece of information's origin. Most people would probably give a little more credence to a New York Times report than to something they read in the National Enquirer, but Trump might very well do the opposite. The latter, after all, is edited by his friend and has endorsed him for president. The New York Times will not, in any scenario, do the same.
- Lewandowski: Trump has "nothing to apologize for" on Mexican judge
- Trump gets self-congratulatory after Orlando mass shooting
It's worth wondering if he prizes outlets like the National Enquirer and Breitbart because he thinks they report the truth or he just prefers places that run favorable coverage on him. I hope it's the latter, because if he's actually getting his hard news from the Enquirer and Breitbart, and the pro-Trump conspiracy theory website InfoWars, then he's a lot crazier than we thought. But, even assuming the master press manipulator just looks at these places and sees newer versions of the New York tabloids he successfully turned into propaganda outlets in the 80s and 90s, it's still worrying that Trump has such a casual relationship with the truth.
Everyone knows that politicians lie. But Trump's real innovation is to not lie so much as create an alternate reality, complete with its own news outlets. In Trump's reality, his chances of winning the presidency look very good, Hillary is going to jail any day now, and the cities are turning into killing fields due to unchecked immigration and racial strife fermented by the White House. This is the reality that places like Breitbart report on daily. It's the reality where one of Hillary's top aides might be an "Islamic spy," a theory floated over the weekend by Trump confidant Roger Stone on his blog.
In this reality, it makes total sense for someone to hear the awful news out of Orlando and then immediately congratulate Trump for calling it, or something. It's the reality of Ed Klein's books, which Trump is now trying to will into existence.
The big question is whether he will be allowed to do that, whether he's canny enough to keep getting away with having his own facts. And he might be, at least for the time being. Every Trump claim can be backed up with something in Breitbart or InfoWars or some tiny outlet none of us have ever heard of. So long as it reflects Trump's reality, Trump will point to it and use it as proof that he's right. Don't think Ed Klein is a trustworthy source? Then you can go back to reading your money-losing New York Times with the other eggheads and global elitists who are causing all the problems.
Maybe Trump is right about what the shooter said - in any case, we should find out soon enough. But in the meantime, the risk/reward ratio for floating possibly untrue claims are, for both Trump and Klein, very much skewed toward reward.