Sean Spicer Is No Joseph Goebbels

January 21, 2017

Donald Trump's first full day in office was marked by an all-out assault on the press. Standing in front of the CIA's memorial wall, the president called journalists "the most dishonest human beings on earth" and made false claims about the size of…um, the crowds at his inauguration. White House press secretary Sean Spicer continued the theme, telling reporters that Trump's inauguration crowd was the largest ever (not true) while supporting this statement with easily refutable lies about floor coverings and magnetometers on the Mall.

This is all profoundly discouraging, though not especially surprising, given Trump's behavior at his press conference on January 11 and talk among Trumpists about "closing down the elite press." But it is also encouraging. Effective propaganda requires mixing enough fact with fiction to keep viewers guessing. Sean Spicer did nothing today but peddle fiction. If this is the best that Trump's propagandists can do, they will not be persuasive.

It is worth putting this into context. Trump needs to discredit the elite press, as he cannot easily shut them down or replace their management. This is a critical difference between Trump's America and Putin's Russia. When Putin took power, the broadcast media were already substantially state-owned, if not fully under state control. Trump does not have this luxury. Instead, he and his minions need to convince Americans that the press is lying while he is telling the truth. Saying that the sky is green when photos show it to be blue won't do the trick.

(H/t to Lucan Way, who got this ball rolling on Facebook.)

Update: Saturday Night Live nails it. In last night's cold open, Beck Bennett as Vladimir Putin chides Trump: "Today you went to the C.I.A. and said one million people came to see you in Washington D.C.? If you're going to lie, don't make it so obvious. Say you are friends with LeBron James, not that you are LeBron James."