Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling out a Washington Post reporter for calling out him (unfairly, Sanders thinks) for calling out President Donald Trump.
“We face a very serious political problem in this country, and that problem is manifested in a post written yesterday by Amber Phillips of The Washington Post,” the Vermont senator wrote in a Medium post Tuesday.
It all started after Sanders took to social media Monday, condemning what he characterized as Trump’s “lies” is a series of tweets.
For what it’s worth, the specific claims Sanders cited — Trump’s allegations about voter fraud, inauguration crowd sizes, and President Barack Obama’s birthplace — have all been rated false by the fact-checking site Politifact.
But Sanders’s use of the term “lie” Monday apparently roiled Phillips, who wrote a blog post titled, “The sorry state of political discourse right now, in five Bernie Sanders tweets.” She argued that Sanders’s tweetstorm was an example of deteriorating political norms of the Trump era.
Political norms — like, don’t accuse the president of the United States of lying without evidence, or don’t accuse the former president of the United States of wiretapping your phones without evidence — have been eviscerated. There are no rules right now in politics about what you can/can’t or should/shouldn’t say.
Phillips also took issue with the term “lie,” because it assumes intentionality.
To say someone’s lying suggests that you know they don’t believe what they’re saying.
It’s possible Trump believes the allegations he’s making, which seem to have surfaced on a conservative news site one of his top aides used to manage.
All of that is why we in the media are careful not to call Trump a “liar.” But top Democrats like Sanders feel no such hesitation.
Phillip’s take incited a number of critical reactions from left-leaning critics, including The New Republic and the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters, which mocked the article with one of their own: “The Sorry State Of Both-Sides Political Analysis Right Now, In One Blog Post.”
And on Tuesday, Sanders penned his own response, arguing that he believes strongly in civil political discourse — but asking what to do about demonstrably baseless claims:
I happen to strongly believe in civil political discourse. The vast majority of people in Congress who hold views different than mine are not liars. It is critical we have strong, fact-based debates on the important issues facing our country and that we respect people who come to different conclusions. In a democracy people will always have honestly held different points of view.
But how does one respond to a president who has complete disregard for reality and who makes assertions heard by billions of people around the world that have no basis in fact?
(Phillips did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.)
The senator went on to individually defend each one of his five tweets and left off with a question:
“If the media and political leaders fail to call lies what they are, are they then guilty of misleading the public?”
A few hours later on Twitter, Sanders again asked — whether Trump believed his falsehoods or not — what is the best way to respond.
I strongly believe in civil political discourse. But how does one respond to a president who has complete disregard for reality?
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 7, 2017