How Do You Keep False Information Away from the President?

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

How Do You Keep False Information Away from the President?

At the climax of the movie version of The Sum of All Fears, Jack Ryan has learned that Baltimore was just nuked by a weapon stolen from the Israels, not by the Russians. At a check point in the Pentagon, Ryan desperately pleads with a general to let him past a check point, needing to stop the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia, who are inching closer to a full-scale nuclear exchange: “General, the President is basing his decisions on some really bad information right now. And if you shut me out, your family, and my family, and twenty-five million other families will be dead in thirty minutes!”

I thought of that when I read this in Politico this morning:

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.

What’s really egregious about this hoax is that it’s completely unnecessary. No, there was no Time magazine cover about a coming ice age. But the other newsweekly ran an article with the same general theme:

On April 28, 1975, Newsweek published a provocative article, “The Cooling World,” in which writer and science editor Peter Gwynne described a significant chilling of the world’s climate, with evidence accumulating “so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.”

Right now, the president may be making “basing his decisions on some really bad information.” Of course,  we should recognize that even the world’s finest intelligence agencies can be fooled by elaborate efforts to sell a lie – i.e., when Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister is secretly recruited by Western intelligence, and he believes his country has an extensive program to develop weapons of mass destruction, our spies will believe him. But at least the intelligence agencies have their own methods for attempting to sort out truth from misinformation.

Even if you’re a fan of K.T. McFarland, keep in mind this informal system of giving President Trump unverified information can be used by the advisors you don’t like:

Priebus and White House staff secretary Rob Porter have tried to implement a system to manage and document the paperwork Trump receives. While some see the new structure as a power play by a weakened chief of staff – “He’d like to get a phone log too,” cracked one senior White House adviser—others are more concerned about the unfettered ability of Trump’s family-member advisers, Jared Kushne and Ivanka Trump, to ply the president with whatever paperwork they want in the residence sight unseen.

“They have this system in place to get things on his desk now,” the same White House official said. “I’m not sure anyone follows it.”

What are Americans supposed to do when Trump’s inner circle is feeding him Internet hoaxes?

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