President Donald Trump lies constantly, on matters great and small, and repeats those lies no matter how obvious it is that he’s lying and no matter how many times the lie is debunked. Everyone knows this; it is an inseverable part of his character. His origin story of being a self-made billionaire was a lie. He launched his political career with the lie that President Barack Obama needed to release his birth certificate to prove he was born in the country. As of September 1, The Washington Post’s fact-checkers had identified 5,001 untruths over the 601 days of his presidency -- an average of 8.3 a day, with the trend accelerating. When Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale watches Trump’s rally speeches, he chronicles the lies in real time on Twitter. The president’s former personal lawyer reportedly wouldn’t allow Trump to testify in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe because he knows Trump is “a fucking liar” who could not help but perjure himself.
Under those circumstances, it is journalistic malpractice for any newspaper to give Trump unimpeded access to its readers. And yet, that’s exactly what USA Today has done in publishing Trump’s op-ed in today’s edition.
The piece is a conglomeration of previously debunked distortions and outright lies common to Trump’s stump speeches, leading several reporters to criticize the paper for its role. “How can @usatoday allow Trump [to] publish an article with documented falsehoods?” asked Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler on Twitter before detailing several of the piece’s whoppers on health care and immigration. CNN’s Jim Acosta commented that the piece “may break the record for the number of falsehoods from a President ever published in a newspaper op-Ed,” adding, “Come on USA Today.” Several other journalists also debunked Trump’s falsehoods in the hours after the op-ed’s publication.
In one particularly gobsmacking case, USA Today allowed Trump to claim that as “a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions” and that as president, he has “kept that promise.” The paper’s Twitter feed even highlighted that passage in a tweet.
Republicans’ position on this issue is one of bottomless bad faith, an effort to confuse the public by saying they supports protections for people with pre-existing conditions while acting to deregulate the health insurance industry.
It’s true that Trump repeatedly claimed on the campaign trail that he would protect patients with pre-existing conditions -- a very popular position given the horror stories on offer before the Affordable Care Act banned insurance companies from charging sick people more or denying them coverage altogether. But as president, his actions have been diametrically opposed to that position. Trump supported ACA repeal legislation that he and congressional Republicans falsely claimed would preserve those protections. With the push to eliminate the ACA failing in Congress last year, his administration has tried to loosen the regulations surrounding pre-existing conditions. And in June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sided in part with plaintiffs who argued in federal court that the ACA was now unconstitutional, specifically refusing to defend the legality of the pre-existing conditions provisions. Senate Republicans have introduced a bill that they claim would preserve those protections if the lawsuit succeeds; it does not.
Trump is lying when he says he’s “kept that promise” to “protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions.” And incredibly, USA Today is aware that the president is lying and decided to let him make the claim anyway.
On the version of the op-ed on USA Today’s website, there’s a link on the words “pre-existing conditions.” If you click the link, you’re directed to an article from the fact-checkers at The Washington Post titled “President Trump’s flip-flop on coverage for preexisting health conditions.” The first paragraph of the article, which contrasts Trump’s public comments on the issue with a letter Sessions wrote about the ACA lawsuit, states: “In plain English, the attorney general’s letter means that the Trump administration no longer supports a provision of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, that makes it possible for people to buy insurance if they have preexisting health conditions.”
It is simply unbelievable, at this late date, that USA Today’s editorial page editors are unaware that the president will lie to their readers if they give him the opportunity -- and it’s appalling that they failed to fact-check the piece after its submission. And yet, that’s exactly what they did.
UPDATE: Bill Sternberg, USA Today's editorial page editor, defended publishing the op-ed, saying that the piece had been fact-checked like any other submission while still giving the author “wide leeway to express” his opinion. Given the ream of falsehoods journalists at other outlets had identified, this amounts to an admission that the section attempted to fact-check the piece but failed miserably.