When Donald Trump tweeted the morning after the State of the Union speech, he cited ratings numbers that showed 45 million people watched the speech on television. That’s true, 45.6 million to be exact. But in the very next line, he claimed it was the most watched SOTU speech in history.
Except it wasn’t.
Nielsen, the company that tracks TV ratings, put out a list that shows President Obama’s first State of the Union speech in 2010 had 48 million viewers, and George W. Bush had more than 62 million for his address in 2003.
CNN jumped all over the tweet, with political talking face Chris Cillizza immediately put out a column saying Trump “lied.” Here’s the thing about claiming this is a lie. To lie, you have to know you’re misleading someone or some group. The reality is, Donald Trump doesn’t give a damn about the facts, and just makes his own reality. And that’s potentially even more frightening than lying.
Yes, there have been times since Trump launched his campaign that he has knowingly lied or contradicted himself. We don’t have to debate the ethics of that. But this is a totally different situation. Do we really want a President of the United States speaking (or tweeting) to the world from a position of ignorance?
It’s one thing to tell Sean Spicer that he had to claim the Inauguration crowd was the largest in history or to make a viewership claim about the SOTU. Clearly he didn’t know or care about the facts.
But Donald Trump needs to be speaking from a position of knowledge on federal policy and foreign relations. Do you really want to trust false information, or unresearched information, to provoke Kim Jong-Un? That is up to his staff. John Kelly, HR McMaster, and his communications team need to duct tape him to his desk in the Oval Office to make sure he understands the facts and numbers of the day. And take away his phone.
Lies are bad. Ignorance may be worse.
Patrick Pfingsten is an award-winning journalist, political consultant, and PR expert. You can find him on Twitter @pfingsten1 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.