News anchors and pundits have repeated lies about Donald Trump and race so often that some of these narratives seem true, even to Americans who embrace the fruits of the president’s policies. The most pernicious and pervasive of these lies is the “Charlottesville Hoax,” the fake-news fabrication that he described the neo-Nazis who rallied in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 as “fine people.”
Just last week I exposed this falsehood, yet again, when CNN contributor Keith Boykin falsely stated, “When violent people were marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville, the president said they were ‘very fine people.’” When I objected and detailed that Trump’s “fine people on both sides” observation clearly related to those on both sides of the Confederate monument debate, and specifically excluded the violent supremacists, anchor Erin Burnett interjected, “He [Trump] didn’t say it was on the monument debate at all. No, they didn’t even try to use that defense. It’s a good one, but no one’s even tried to use it, so you just used it now.”
My colleagues seem prepared to dispute our own network’s correct contemporaneous reporting and the very clear transcripts of the now-infamous Trump Tower presser on the tragic events of Charlottesville. Here are the unambiguous actual words of President Trump:
“Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group – excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”
After another question at that press conference, Trump became even more explicit:
“I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and white nationalists because they should be condemned totally.”
As a man charged with publicly explaining Donald Trump’s often meandering and colloquial vernacular in highly adversarial TV settings, I appreciate more than most the sometimes-murky nature of his off-script commentaries. But these Charlottesville statements leave little room for interpretation. For any honest person, therefore, to conclude that the president somehow praised the very people he actually derided, reveals a blatant and blinding level of bias.
Nonetheless, countless so-called journalists have furthered this damnable lie. For example, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace responded that Trump had “given safe harbor to Nazis, to white supremacists.” Her NBC colleague Chuck Todd claimed Trump “gave me the wrong kind of chills. Honestly, I’m a bit shaken from what I just heard.” Not to be outdone, print also got in on the act, with the New York Times spewing the blatantly propagandist headline: “Trump Gives White Supremacists Unequivocal Boost.” How could the Times possibly reconcile that Trump, who admonished that the supremacists should be “condemned totally” somehow also delivered an “unequivocal boost” to those very same miscreants?
But like many fake news narratives, repetition has helped cement this one into a reasonably plausible storyline for all but the most skeptical consumers of news. In fact, over the weekend, Fox News host Chris Wallace pressed White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on why Trump has not given a speech “condemning … white supremacist bigotry.” Well, Chris, he has, and more than once. The most powerful version was from the White House following Charlottesville and the heartbreaking death of Heather Heyer. President Trump’s succinct and direct words:
“Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
Despite the clear evidence of Trump’s statements regarding Charlottesville, major media figures insist on spreading the calumny that Trump called neo-Nazis “fine people.” The only explanation for such a repeated falsehood is abject laziness or willful deception. Either way, the duplicity on this topic perhaps encapsulates the depressingly low trust most Americans place in major media, with 77 percent stating in a Monmouth University 2018 poll that traditional TV and newspapers report fake news. In addition, such lies as the Charlottesville Hoax needlessly further divide our already-polarized society.
Instead of hyper-partisan, distorted narratives, as American citizens we should demand adherence to truth -- and adherence to the common values that bind us regardless of politics. In the words of our president: “No matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God.”
Steve Cortes is a contributor to RealClearPolitics and a CNN political commentator. His Twitter handle is @CortesSteve.