A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
The contrast simply could not be any more stark. While the top Democrats in the race for the White House shared their detailed plans for addressing the climate crisis, President Trump and a handful of his allies continued to make completely false claims about Hurricane Dorian, even as the storm gained strength and churned toward the Carolinas.
News outlets like the NYT and CNN have noted that climate change makes storms like Dorian more dangerous. This came up repeatedly during CNN’s seven-hour town hall event with ten Democratic candidates.
But the president is not interested in talking about the climate crisis. He is interested in defending himself — even though there’s no factual defense for his claims that Alabama was going to be “hit” by Dorian. Trump’s own federal agencies denied it when he first brought it up on Sunday. But he is undeterred.
Why this matters: The president spread false info during an emergency situation three times in one day. Then insisted he was right when he was corrected. And he’s still swearing he was right and suggesting news outlets should apologize to him. I believe this example of Trump’s reality distortion field is so egregious that it will be recorded in history books.
During a briefing in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Trump held up an altered forecast map from last Thursday with parts of Alabama amateurishly circled in pen. His display of the map was clearly meant to back up his bogus assertions about Alabama being in the path of Dorian.
Later in the day, he insisted that many computer models said “Alabama was going to be hit very hard.” He even tweeted out an old “spaghetti model” image that showed potential impacts to the state. But the image was from last Wednesday. Trump suddenly and falsely claimed Alabama was at risk on Sunday, when Dorian was showing signs of staying off the coast. What he said was objectively false. The people trying to defend him are denying basic geography and science lessons that we all learned in school. But they’re trying anyway…
And this is how it happens, another case study in the destruction of a shared truth. Truth be told, I feel like part of the problem, even expending any energy explaining that Alabama wasn’t in the path of Dorian. But the president’s actions — lying and then insisting he didn’t lie, in the face of all available evidence — need to be documented.
“Trump’s map flap”
Per my TVEyes search, ABC’s “World News Tonight” was the only broadcast nightly newscast to note and debunk Trump’s falsehoods about Alabama.
ABC’s Cecilia Vega noted: “It is a federal crime to knowingly issue or publish a false weather forecast. FEMA and NOAA referred “all questions about that seemingly doctored map back to the White House, where President Trump said he didn’t know anything about it.” I think ABC deserves credit for recognizing the significance of this story.
>> Over on Fox: “Special Report” noted that Trump appeared to show an “altered weather map,” but the scandal only came up in prime time when a Democratic guest made a crack about it on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
>> Philip Bump’s recap for the Washington Post: “Trump’s war on reality enters bizarre new terrain.”
Who altered the map?
Some notable reporting from CNN’s Jim Acosta here: “A source familiar with the briefing would not deny that Trump had drawn the black line on the map. ‘I’m not going to get into that,’ the source said, but confirmed the line had been added during the storm briefing Wednesday, before the press entered the Oval Office.”
Is anyone telling Trump the truth?
Trump’s own government has lots of experts who can help him with these facts and these forecasts. Presumably they are trying. I’d like to know more about their experiences. Remember, the White House said over the weekend that Trump was getting “hourly” updates on the hurricane. Either that’s not true, or Trump wasn’t listening to the updates.
>> The Atlantic’s James Fallows tweeted: “Trump’s tweeting out Iranian rocket-site photo was 100x more consequential. His ‘dog ate my homework’ hurricane ‘map’ is 1000x easier to understand — and thus, as with his inauguration-crowd ‘photos,’ likelier to stick in embarrassing way…”
>> Staunch Trump opponent George Conway tweeted: “Although the delusional map markup is perfectly characteristic behavior for @realDonaldTrump, its absurdity is precisely what makes it such a striking illustration of the depths of the disorders that afflict his warped mind…”
>> NBC meteorologist Bill Karins tweeted to Trump: “Please stop wasting so much of our time when a strong Hurricane is about to potentially cause billions of dollars of damage in South and North Carolina!”
Highlights from CNN’s town hall event
Seven candidates, ten hours, terrific questions about a pivotal topic — this was a remarkable event — CNN.com’s live story page has a comprehensive recap of the Q&A’s.
My wife Jamie was watching when the event started… She tweeted out, “I’ve been watching for 90+ minutes now. This is what the news should be all the time.”
>> Next: At the end of the evening, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation announced that it will host a CNN town hall on October 10 in L.A. “focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues.” Details here…