The anti-Trump media are in an uproar about a comment by President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that “truth isn’t truth.” News reports have taken Giuliani’s comment completely out of context – showing that many in the media really don’t care about the truth.
As part of the media pile-on attacking Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, CNN’s Brian Stelter warned: “For a part of the country’s population, the truth is not the truth anymore. President Trump’s accomplishment has been to destroy the notion of the commonly accepted set of facts. The truth is what the president says that it is.”
Washington Post Opinions Editor James Downie compared Giuliani’s comment to President Clinton’s statement about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinksy, when Clinton said: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
HBO’s John Oliver gave only a glimpse of the late night talk shows will do with the statement this week by poking fun at Giuliani’s statement.
But what was Giuliani really saying?
Here is the exchange between Giuliani and Todd on “Meet the Press.”
Giuliani: “And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, well that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth.”
Todd: “Truth is truth. I don’t mean to go like – ”
Giuliani: “No, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t truth. The president of the United States says, “I didn’t – ”
Todd: “Truth isn’t truth? Mr. Mayor, do you realize, what, I, I, I —”
Giuliani: “No, no, no –”
Todd: “This is going to become a bad meme.”
Giuliani: “Don’t do, don’t do this to me.”
Todd: “Don’t do truth isn’t truth to me.”
Giuliani’s point was simple: even if you tell the complete truth, prosecutors can still go after you for perjury. It could be that the prosecutors truly believe some other witness. It could also be that the prosecutors are just hell bent on getting another conviction.
Giuliani’s point was simple, but the media would rather preen and posture than debate the argument he was trying to make.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was charged last year with perjury after getting a date wrong in an interview with FBI agents. Flynn wasn’t told the purpose of the interview and hadn’t had a chance to refresh his memory.
The agents who interviewed Flynn didn’t think that he had lied, but merely made a mistake on dates. They found no “physical indications of deception” and “didn't see any change in posture, in tone, in inflection, in eye contact.”
Making a mistake isn’t the same thing as lying. Witnesses to crimes often make mistakes in recalling events that may have happened just minutes or hours previously.
But perjury charges weren’t brought against Flynn until Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election got underway months later in 2017.
Mueller never alleged that Flynn perjured himself in an attempt to cover up some other crime. The hope was simply to get someone in President Trump’s inner circle to crack and divulge evidence against the president.
Mueller’s prosecutors weren’t present at Flynn’s interview and may have no reason to believe that Flynn lied. Indeed, there was not any reason for Flynn to lie, because what he was talking to the agents about didn’t even involve a crime.
When I served as chief economist at the U.S. Sentencing Commission, I observed this sort of thing happen many times. Prosecutors often abuse their tremendous power in the belief that the ends justify the means. I had prosecutors tell me that even if the defendant hadn’t committed this particular crime, they were sure that he had committed other ones.
“Meet the Press” panelists congratulated Todd on getting a sound bite that they could run with. They seemed unconcerned with what Giuliani actually meant.
“I think the headline is truth isn't truth,” said PBS White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor. “As soon as he said (it) I thought, ‘Man, Chuck Todd really does these things really well.’"
Former FBI director James Comey ignored Giuliani’s point and quickly chimed in on Twitter: “Truth exists and truth matters. Truth has always been the touchstone of our country’s justice system and political life. People who lie are held accountable.”
But in fact, Giuliani wasn’t disputing that there is an ultimate truth. What he said is that being truthful won’t necessarily protect you from perjury charges.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted out his own interpretation: “The statement by Rudy Giuliani that 'truth isn't truth' is another step towards authoritarianism.”
But worrying about the power of prosecutors is, if anything, anti-authoritarian. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., found Giuliani’s statement to be reminiscent of the totalitarian government in George Orwell’s novel, “1984.”
The statements by Lieu and Schiff are outrageous, but the media aren’t calling them to account.
Giuliani tried again to explain the obvious in a tweet Monday, stating: “My statement was not meant as a pontification on moral theology but one referring to the situation where two people make precisely contradictory statements, the classic ‘he said,she said’ puzzle. Sometimes further inquiry can reveal the truth other times it doesn’t.”
However, it really doesn’t matter how many time Giuliani explains what he meant. The Trump-haiting media can’t stop lying about what the president and those around him are saying.
Some pundits just want to repeat a three-word sound bite, with no regard to what the speaker meant. Instead of engaging in a thoughtful discussion about Giuliani’s critique of prosecutorial power, the media would rather destroy their target.