See, here’s the thing: it’s dangerous to have a President who is a gullible simpleton.
The situation is made even worse when one of the President’s top advisers (Steve Bannon) is a notorious purveyor of fake news.
Indeed, the dynamic created by the interplay between fake news, Trump, and an un– or at least under– educated electorate partly explains why there’s a reality TV show host occupying the Oval Office.
Trump’s penchant for consuming and then regurgitating unverified stories led him to claim that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower – an assertion that’s been debunked by literally everyone, but which Trump (still) refuses to retract.
Worse still, he has a habit of taking something that has some basis in reality – a story, for instance, about immigrants in Sweden – and putting his own “spin” on it. That leads directly to situations like the President found himself in earlier this year when he posited a terrorist attack that didn’t happen – the infamous #lastnightinsweden debacle.
Well, according to a piece out Monday from Politico, Trump’s gullibility has become so much of a standing joke in the West Wing, that his own staff knowingly slips him fake news stories just to see if he’ll believe them.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus issued a stern warning at a recent senior staff meeting: Quit trying to secretly slip stuff to President Trump.
Just days earlier, K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, had given Trump a printout of two Time magazine covers. One, supposedly from the 1970s, warned of a coming ice age; the other, from 2008, about surviving global warming, according to four White House officials familiar with the matter.
Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy. But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an Internet hoax that’s circulated for years. Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it.
While the information stream to past commanders-in-chief has been tightly monitored, Trump prefers an open Oval Office with a free flow of ideas and inputs from both official and unofficial channels. And he often does not differentiate between the two. Aides sometimes slip him stories to press their advantage on policy; other times they do so to gain an edge in the seemingly endless Game of Thrones inside the West Wing.
The consequences can be tremendous, according to a half-dozen White House officials and others with direct interactions with the president. A news story tucked into Trump’s hands at the right moment can torpedo an appointment or redirect the president’s entire agenda. Current and former Trump officials say Trump can react volcanically to negative press clips, especially those with damaging leaks, becoming engrossed in finding out where they originated.
That is what happened in late February when someone mischievously gave the president a printed copy of an article from GotNews.com, the website of Internet provocateur Charles C. Johnson, which accused deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh of being “the source behind a bunch of leaks” in the White House.
No matter that Johnson had been permanently banned from Twitter for harassment or that he offered no concrete evidence or that he’s lobbed false accusations in the past and recanted them. Trump read the article and began asking staff about Walsh. Johnson told POLITICO that he tracks the IP addresses of visitors to his website and added: “I can tell you unequivocally that the story was shared all around the White House.”
When Trump bellows about this or that story, his aides often scramble in a game of cat-and-mouse to figure out who alerted the president to the piece in the first place given that he rarely browses the Internet on his own. Some in the White House describe getting angry calls from the president and then hustling over to Trump’s personal secretary, Madeleine Westerhout, to ferret who exactly had just paid a visit to the Oval Office and possibly set Trump off.
With regard to the TIME stories mentioned, here’s what Trump’s staff slipped him to see if he would fall for it:
And here’s the real version of the doctored cover on the left: