originally written 11/25/2016

Putting out massive amounts of fake news online and attempting to intimidate the press into publishing exactly what he wants are not the only ways the Trump team plans to control the media message about his administration. The fact is, Trump doesn’t need media publications to print outright lies. As long as they interpret what he says in the most positive way possible, and use headlines that portray things in the most positive light despite nuance that implies otherwise, they can transmit exactly the message he wants and still try to claim truthfulness and objectivity.

Look at the recent coverage of some of Trump’s remarks during his sit-down with the NY Times staff on Tuesday. During this sit-down, Trump let loose with a barrage of gaslighting and bullshitting so expansive that I could spend all weekend breaking down various points, but I’m going to focus on his remarks about climate change so we can see how much that sort of twist and spin drove the immediate coverage of the story. Look and see how important it is to read beyond the headlines, beyond the spin, to look for quotes without editorializing and interpretation by the writer, and most of all, to look for actual policy, and to the policies that have been advanced in the past by the people he is stocking his administration with, in order to see what is really happening. Most of all, learn to listen to what the President-elect actually says, rather than what the media and those around him say he said.

 

After the sit-down between members of their editorial staff and the President-elect, the NY Times ran a story about the meeting written by three of the people who had been there. The story had the headline, “Trump, In Interview, Moderates Views But Defies Convention.” The story included this paragraph:

On climate change, Mr. Trump refused to repeat his promise to abandon the international climate accord reached last year in Paris, saying, “I’m looking at it very closely.” Despite the recent appointment to his transition team of a fierce critic of the Paris accords, Mr. Trump said that “I have an open mind to it” and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.

After this story hit the streets, multiple media outlets ran with this interpretation. Newsweek ran a headline blaring that Trump had “softened” on climate change and ran this quote in their story:

Trump told the Times he thinks there is “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change, reporter Mike Grynbaum tweeted. “It depends on how much,” the reporter quoted Trump as saying. Asked whether the United States will withdraw from climate change accords, Trump said: “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it,” the reporter tweeted.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, also said on Tuesday he was thinking about climate change and American competitiveness and “how much it will cost our companies,” the reporter said, without elaborating.

The headline on Reuters stated that Trump was keeping an “open mind” on climate change and quotes him as saying “clean air is vitally important.”

Business Insider went with the “some connectivity” quote in their headline, and they editorialized his comments down to this:

Trump seemed to suggest at least an openness to engaging with science and policy issues regarding the climate. He also suggested he might not pull out of the Paris Agreement, though he didn’t lend any specifics or details.”

The LA Times headline proclaimed a “shift” in Trump’s thinking on climate change, and more editorializing and interpretation of his comments as follows:

The president-elect, who had branded climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese and dismissed efforts to fight it as a massive, politically motivated waste of time and money, now said that perhaps action was needed, and that he might follow through with America’s commitments in the international climate agreement that he repeatedly vowed during the campaign to disregard.

The positive spin was so ubiquitous that even the Center for Climate Protection ran a headline for a blurb on climateprotection.org on the interview that said “Donald Trump’s Interview With The New York Times Offers Hope On Climate.” The story quoted the paragraph from the NY Times story as well.

Here’s the problem with all that reassurance: other than the key buzzwords and phrases, Trump didn’t actually say anything positive about climate change in the interview. In fact, reading Trump’s full comments on climate change as given to the NY Times during that interview should actually scare the hell out of anyone that believes in the science surrounding climate change. Let’s look at them verbatim.

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, opinion columnist: Mr. President-elect, can I ask a question? One of the issues that you actually were very careful not to speak about during the campaign, and haven’t spoken about yet, is one very near and dear to my heart, the whole issue of climate change, the Paris agreement, how you’ll approach it. You own some of the most beautiful links golf courses in the world …

[laughter, cross talk]

TRUMP: [laughing] I read your article. Some will be even better because actually like Doral is a little bit off … so it’ll be perfect. [inaudible] He doesn’t say that. He just says that the ones that are near the water will be gone, but Doral will be in great shape.

[laughter]

Here we see that Trump’s first instinct concerning climate change is to make jokes about how climate change might actually improve some of his golf course locations, making them closer to the coast. Right off the bat, the implication is not that he is serious about this matter.

FRIEDMAN: But it’s really important to me, and I think to a lot of our readers, to know where you’re going to go with this. I don’t think anyone objects to, you know, doing all forms of energy. But are you going to take America out of the world’s lead of confronting climate change?

TRUMP: I’m looking at it very closely, Tom. I’ll tell you what. I have an open mind to it. We’re going to look very carefully. It’s one issue that’s interesting because there are few things where there’s more division than climate change. You don’t tend to hear this, but there are people on the other side of that issue who are, think, don’t even …

SULZBERGER: We do hear it.

FRIEDMAN: I was on ‘Squawk Box’ with Joe Kernen this morning, so I got an earful of it.

[laughter]

TRUMP: Joe is one of them. But a lot of smart people disagree with you. I have a very open mind. And I’m going to study a lot of the things that happened on it and we’re going to look at it very carefully. But I have an open mind.

Above is his use of the phrase “We’re looking at it very closely” and his first use of the NY Times quoted comment “I have an open mind to it.” Notice that he is not being asked about the Paris climate accord at all when he says these things, and read this paragraph from the NY Times story recapping the meeting again:

On climate change, Mr. Trump refused to repeat his promise to abandon the international climate accord reached last year in Paris, saying, “I’m looking at it very closely.” Despite the recent appointment to his transition team of a fierce critic of the Paris accords, Mr. Trump said that “I have an open mind to it” and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.

As noted, many news outlets have been using this interpretation to spin his “open mind” comments to indicate that Trump has an “open mind” to climate solutions, but it’s clear reading the comments that’s not what he said at all. Immediately after saying he has an open mind, he indicates that the people he is listening to with that open mind are climate change deniers. He says, “there are few things where there’s more division than climate change. You don’t tend to hear this…

You don’t tend to hear it because it’s wrong. In fact, there are few things in science where there is more consensus than climate change. The vast majority of scientists believe it is happening, it is manmade, and that we need to immediately work to prevent it from worsening.

Remember the phrase “I have an open mind,” this will be a recurring thing. It’s obviously the message he wants to send, despite all indications being to the contrary.

SULZBERGER: Well, since we’re living on an island, sir, I want to thank you for having an open mind. We saw what these storms are now doing, right? We’ve seen it personally. Straight up.

FRIEDMAN: But you have an open mind on this?

TRUMP: I do have an open mind. And we’ve had storms always, Arthur.

Note, again, the “open mind” comment followed IMMEDIATELY by  denial that anything new or different is occurring. It’s only possible for someone who believes in climate change to find this reassuring when “open mind” is taken completely out of context, something a disturbing amount of media outlets were willing to do for some reason.

SULZBERGER: Not like this.

TRUMP: You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind.

Again with the open mind, this time following an outright lie. The highest temperature ever recorded on earth for one day was in Kuwait in July 2016. NASA has shown that 2016 will be the hottest year on record.

My uncle was for 35 years a professor at M.I.T. He was a great engineer, scientist. He was a great guy. And he was … a long time ago, he had feelings — this was a long time ago — he had feelings on this subject. It’s a very complex subject.

The uncle he speaks of is his uncle John Trump. Donald brings him up often as proof that the Trumps are genetically superior to normal humans. (from The New Yorker, April 2016: “I had a father who was successful,” Trump told CNN, in 2010. “And, you know, I have a certain gene. I’m a gene believer. Hey, when you connect two race horses, you usually end up with a fast horse.” In South Carolina, earlier this year, he noted, “Dr. John Trump at M.I.T.; good genes, very good genes, O.K., very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart.” (Donald Trump was at Wharton as an undergraduate, after transferring from Fordham.) To the Boston Globe: “My father’s brother was a brilliant man . . . We have very good genetics.” And then on NBC, after telling Lester Holt that his uncle was a professor at M.I.T.: “I mean it’s a good gene pool right there”—he pointed to his head—“I have to do what I have to do.”)

It’s true that John Trump appears to have been a brilliant scientist, but since his field was in defense, working on x-ray technology and other machinery, it’s not clear how much, if any, work he did on climate change. Further, even though he brings him up, Trump doesn’t actually say what his uncle’s feelings on the subject of climate change actually WERE, just that he had some. His main purpose in bringing up his uncle, as usual, seems to be because he feels that it beefs up his own intellectual credentials to name drop an MIT scientist in the family.

TRUMP: I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know. I know we have, they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists. Where was that, in Geneva or wherever five years ago? Terrible. Where they got caught, you know, so you see that and you say, what’s this all about. I absolutely have an open mind.

At this point, it becomes clear that he intends to sneak “open mind” into every answer whether it’s in context or not. But no matter how many times he says it, all he does in this interview is to express skepticism. The email controversy he speaks about is evidence that scientist can disagree while reaching a consensus but it did not change the research or the overriding conclusions of the majority of scientists. It’s clear that Trump has an open mind to the climate change skeptics. It’s not clear he’s open to the science of it. After all, the expression, “I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know,” almost always indicates that the person speaking has in fact closed their mind to further evidence and input.

TRUMP: I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important.

Whenever someone says “I will tell you this,” be prepared to be underwhelmed by the glaringly obvious. I will note that it’s fine to think clean air, water and safety are important, but if you don’t think pollution is a threat to those things, I don’t have any confidence in you guaranteeing their safety.

TRUMP: And you know, you mentioned a lot of the courses. I have some great, great, very successful golf courses. I’ve received so many environmental awards for the way I’ve done, you know. I’ve done a tremendous amount of work where I’ve received tremendous numbers. Sometimes I’ll say I’m actually an environmentalist and people will smile in some cases and other people that know me understand that’s true. Open mind.

The President-elect certainly loves to pimp his golf courses and hotels during interviews, which is just lovely. As far as anyone can tell, “so many environmental awards” is actually “one” environmental award, for a bird sanctuary at his Bedminster Golf Club in 2007. Despite that award, nobody has ever actually said he’s an environmentalist; even the Bedminster club has been cited for a string of violations from the NJ EPA, and his environmental record at his developments in general is incredibly spotty, as reported in the Washington Post: “He likes to pretend he’s an environmentalist because of the landscaping on his golf courses, but at the end of the day, it seems he’s the only one that actually believes that,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Action Fund. “His brand of environmentalism is only for the wealthy and elite.”

Also regarding that last answer, it’s literally like he got to the end of his statement and then realized he had not said the words “open mind” in his answer at all and just blurted it out at the end. I thought of Abbott and Costello both yelling, “Third base!”

JAMES BENNET, editorial page editor: When you say an open mind, you mean you’re just not sure whether human activity causes climate change? Do you think human activity is or isn’t connected?

TRUMP: I think right now … well, I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.

They’re really largely noncompetitive. About four weeks ago, I started adding a certain little sentence into a lot of my speeches, that we’ve lost 70,000 factories since W. Bush. 70,000. When I first looked at the number, I said: ‘That must be a typo. It can’t be 70, you can’t have 70,000, you wouldn’t think you have 70,000 factories here.’ And it wasn’t a typo, it’s right. We’ve lost 70,000 factories.

We’re not a competitive nation with other nations anymore. We have to make ourselves competitive. We’re not competitive for a lot of reasons.

That’s becoming more and more of the reason. Because a lot of these countries that we do business with, they make deals with our president, or whoever, and then they don’t adhere to the deals, you know that. And it’s much less expensive for their companies to produce products. So I’m going to be studying that very hard, and I think I have a very big voice in it. And I think my voice is listened to, especially by people that don’t believe in it. And we’ll let you know.

The NYT tries to nail Trump down here on whether he actually thinks humans cause climate change. Note that out of everything Trump says in the answer, “some connectivity” is the phrase overwhelmingly quoted in all the positive coverage about him. But Trump spends most of this answer talking about whether it’s worth it to combat climate change EVEN IF YOU THINK THERE IS A CONNECTION TO HUMAN ACTIVITY. The entire response is about a loss of factories and the need to “compete”.

So, out of the entirety of his responses to the NYT about climate change, Trump makes a joke, says plenty of smart people disagree that it’s a problem (arguable), that we’ve always had storms, that the hottest day ever was almost 120 years ago (incorrect). He says his uncle was a scientist that had an opinion on this but doesn’t say what it was, says we’ll probably never know for sure if it is a problem (we know already that it is), and brings up an email “controversy” that was ultimately irrelevant (probably out of force of habit.) He closes by talking about how successful he is again, brags about a great environmental record that doesn’t exist, then tacks on some of his talking points meant to talk up his trade policies. He closes with another joke:

FRIEDMAN: I’d hate to see Royal Aberdeen underwater.

TRUMP: The North Sea, that could be, that’s a good one, right?

Of course, to people who live and work along the coast, to fisherman who have come from a generations-long tradition to working along the coast to families who have safeguarded their properties there to pass them along to their children, paying higher property taxes and insurance and praying against catastrophic storms, the idea of the American coasts sinking into the water isn’t as funny as it is to a billionaire who owns some golf courses nearby.

Later on, one more question is asked on climate:

SHEAR: Just one quick clarification on the climate change, do you intend to, as you said, pull out of the Paris Climate …

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it.

SHEAR [interrupts]: And if the reaction from foreign leaders is to slap tariffs on American goods to offset the carbon that the United States had pledged to reduce, is that O.K. with you? And then the second question is on your sort of mixing of your global business interests and the presidency. There’s already, even just in the 10, two weeks you’ve been president-elect, instances where you’ve met with your Indian business partners …

TRUMP: Sure.

It’s unclear whether or not the “Sure” is in response to the question on the tariffs from foreign leaders, but it seems obvious Trump isn’t concerned about that. Certainly he gives no indication that he is planning on reconsidering pulling out of the climate accord and, even though he used the phrase “open mind” over a half-dozen times earlier in the interview, he chooses not to say it here. Yet in the NY Times story about this meeting, this paragraph, which we opened by looking at, pretty much states he did:

On climate change, Mr. Trump refused to repeat his promise to abandon the international climate accord reached last year in Paris, saying, “I’m looking at it very closely.” Despite the recent appointment to his transition team of a fierce critic of the Paris accords, Mr. Trump said that “I have an open mind to it” and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.

Now that you’ve read the transcript yourself, think of how much the writers of this story had to twist Trump’s own words that they just listened to in order to get to that paragraph. Ask yourself why they would do that. Again, see how much that sort of twist and spin drove the immediate coverage of the story. Remember to look beyond all that, to be immediately skeptical of editorialized paragraphs that only use a few words of a person’s actual statement, and to never assume that what is written in the headline is what is written in the story. After all, this was portrayed in headline after headline as a “softening” or a “shift” on climate change by the President-elect. Story after story included paragraphs about how the President-elect’s words offered “hope” to climate change activists that he had an “open mind” on the subject and was willing to consider action. But other than him tacking the phrase “I have an open mind” onto almost every answer on the subject, it’s clear that the only ideas he has an open mind to are being advanced by climate change deniers and skeptics, who finally see the chance to undo all the good work on climate that has been done in the last 20 years.

This sort of thing is ALL OVER THE PLACE. Please pay attention.

See you soon

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