In Saturday’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton claimed that Donald Trump “is becoming ISIS’s greatest recruiter.”
It’s a self-evidently ludicrous claim, unsupported by even the tiniest shred of evidence, as PolitiFact, CNN, and even Vox were quick to point out. But when Meet the Press host Chuck Todd pressed Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta about the claim on Sunday, Podesta pointed to a little-noticed report from NBC News.
“Well look, Chuck, your own network ran a piece citing the most important organization that follows ISIS on social media that said that they are using social media, that they are using Donald Trump as a recruitment tool,” Podesta said. “So that’s what she was referencing and that’s the interpretation we made.”
The report’s headline — “Donald Trump’s Muslim Bashing Aids Cause of Terror Networks, Say Experts” — would seem to give Clinton cover, but its contents are entirely speculative: It never references any specific video or message from the group.
“They love him from the sense that he is supporting their rhetoric,” Rita Katz of SITE Intelligence Group is quoted as saying in the story. “They follow everything Donald Trump says. When he says, ‘No Muslims should be allowed in America,’ they tell people, ‘We told you America hates Muslims and here is proof.’”
Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and John Kerry have all shown up in an ISIS propaganda video, and no one is calling them the group’s “greatest recruiters.”
PolitiFact looked at the NBC report and concluded that, “while such quotes support the notion that ISIS could be making recruiting videos, or will do so, they do not support Clinton’s contention — offered in the present tense — that they are currently doing so.” Even if Trump were to appear in such a video, Clinton’s argument would be problematic: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and John Kerry have all shown up in an ISIS propaganda video, and no one is calling them the group’s “greatest recruiters.”
Yes, Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the country can be debated and denounced, and many candidates on both sides of the aisle have rejected the idea. But if a denunciation by ISIS is all it takes for an idea to be unacceptable, then the United States will have to reject democracy, women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of religion, and so on.
That doesn’t mean anyone should hold their breath waiting for pundits to rush to Trump’s defense. Siding with the billionaire real-estate mogul against any other candidate, much less Clinton, is uncomfortable for most members of the mainstream media, and it shows.
“The fact-checkers, by the way, at this time say there is no proof that ISIS used Trump in their videos,” John Berman said on CNN Sunday, after viewers were shown a clip of Clinton’s accusation. “But we’ll leave that aside.” Why? If the allegation is important enough to bring up in the first place, shouldn’t it be subjected to proper scrutiny?
#share#On ABC News’s This Week, correspondent Jonathan Karl offered a report that concluded, “We asked the Clinton camp where they got that from. They have not offered . . . any direct evidence that had happened.”
When George Stephanopoulos — the former Bill Clinton aide and Clinton Foundation donor — interviewed Trump on the same show, he opened by displaying Trump’s tweet calling Hillary a liar, and asking the candidate, “Are you going to stand by it?”
Is Trump going to stand by it? Why shouldn’t he stand by it? Why is the burden of proof on Trump to demonstrate that Clinton is lying, when Karl had literally just said her campaign couldn’t offer any evidence that she wasn’t?
Later, when Trump elaborated, “they make up things in the world of politics. They’re all talk and no action. They’re politicians,” Stephanopoulos asserted that Trump had forfeited his right to complain about false accusations.
#related#“Are you sure you want to go — are you sure you want to go down that road?” Stephanopoulos asked. “The fact checkers have called you out on more false statements than any other candidate.”
CNN’s Chris Cuomo offered a similar assessment Monday morning: “For Donald Trump to say, ‘I demand an apology,’ do you think that he has enough credibility with the public when it comes to veracity for him to ask for an apology for something like this?”
This is baffling. Trump says a lot of things that don’t check out, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair game for anyone else to turn around and lie about him. The press shouldn’t bestow the gift of objectivity only on the candidates it likes: Reporters are supposed to give voters the truth; not ensure that both sides can lie equally.
Then again, when was the last time the media could credibly claim to be objective, anyway?
— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.