For more than half an hour on Thursday, President Donald Trump sounded familiar themes at his coronavirus briefing: blasting presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, arguing that the rapidly spreading virus is being effectively managed, and questioning the security of voting by mail.
Then he called on S.V. Dáte, HuffPost’s White House correspondent.
“Mr. President, after three and a half years, do you regret at all, all the lying you’ve done to the American people?” Dáte asked.
Trump looked confused. “What?” he asked.
“All the lying. All the dishonesties,” Dáte repeated.
“That who has done?” Trump asked.
“You have done,” Dáte said.
Trump paused briefly, then called on another reporter without answering.
Everyone please take a moment and follow @svdate and thank him.
— Don Winslow (@donwinslow) August 13, 2020
The blunt exchange quickly went viral on Twitter, garnering millions of views by Friday morning and offering a new chapter in the fraught history of White House correspondents trying to hold Trump publicly accountable for his falsehoods.
As president, Trump has been a prodigious spreader of misinformation. As of July, he’s made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims while in office, according to an ongoing tally by The Washington Post’s Fact Checker. He’s done so at an even greater rate in the last 14 months, tallying an average of 23 claims per day as the nation has been roiled by an impeachment trial and a pandemic.
Trump’s regular falsehoods, combined with long stretches without briefings and the president’s open hostility to the press, have created historic challenges for reporters covering the White House, as The Post’s Paul Farhi has reported.
Dáte, a veteran journalist and author who spent more than three decades at outlets including the Palm Beach Post and the Associated Press before joining HuffPost, has been particularly aggressive in urging his colleagues to push back on Trump’s falsehoods.
In an email to his colleagues last year, Dáte urged journalists to “be more concerned about getting lied to as a matter of course – and the American public getting lied to, through us – than about access.”
“I’ve been in this business more than three decades, and what’s happening now is unprecedented,” Dáte wrote as part of an unsuccessful pitch to become president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. “We are attacked on a near daily basis using Stalinist language. We are called corrupt and dishonest. We are given false information from staff who often know full well that it is false.”
Dáte has also written about the effects of Trump’s misinformation. In a January piece, Dáte called Trump’s repeated falsehoods “exhausting.”
“I have never encountered a public official, a candidate for office, a bureaucrat, a defense lawyer or, frankly, an actual criminal who is as regularly and aggressively dishonest as the current president of the United States. And that includes a dozen years covering the Florida legislature,” he wrote then.
The most troubling result, he suggested, was that Trump’s daily misstatements have become so common that they rarely get much attention.
“It is no longer newsworthy that the person leading the world’s most powerful nation, commanding the most destructive arsenal in human history, is untrustworthy to his core,” he wrote.
As for what drove his decision to pose Trump such a direct question about his falsehoods on Thursday, Dáte didn’t immediately respond to a message from The Post. But on Twitter, he suggested that the query had been on his mind for some time.
“For five years I’ve been wanting to ask him that,” Dáte tweeted.
For five years I've been wanting to ask him that.
— S.V. Dáte (@svdate) August 13, 2020
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