Awkward: White House invokes ‘Moynihan rule’ to counter ‘Fire and Fury’

I find it hard sometimes not to pity White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, although she should have known what she was getting herself into when she took the gig last year after poor Sean Spicer fled in disgrace. But given what her job has become under the current incumbent, Sanders probably should not have trotted out the other day a famous saying about the difference between facts and opinions.

The colorful former senator (and ambassador and Harvard professor) Daniel Patrick Moynihan is often credited with the saying that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.”

That’s the one that Sanders invoked from the press room podium yesterday as she attempted to disparage the various shocking claims that surfaced in advance of the publication of Michael Wolff’s explosive new Trump administration exposé, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” about which you undoubtedly heard a fair bit yesterday as excerpts were released portraying the first year of the Trump administration as a serious dumpster fire.

The Trump White House is where respect for facticity goes to die. So when, in an effort to suggest that some of the revelations in “Fire and Fury” might not be reliable, Sanders invoked the Moynihan rule, CNN’s Jake Tapper was ready for her at the opening of his next show that same day on CNN’s “The Lead.”

After quoting her invocation of the Moynihan you-aren’t-entitled-to-your-own-facts crack, Tapper let fly with a small sample of a certain president’s habit of making fact-free claims:

 Just a reminder, Sarah: The president claimed with no evidence that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election, that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination, that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey were seen on TV cheering after the 9/11 attacks and that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, which, of course, he was. … But, I’m sorry, were you saying something about misleading information and a need to stick to facts?

Of course, that’s a teensy sample of instances in which the current occupant of the Oval Office felt entitled to his own (shall we say “questionable”) facts.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/04/2018 - 09:52 am.

    Factual Facts

    Does this mean that “alternative facts” are not a thing anymore?

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/04/2018 - 10:06 am.

    It appears that the period of “strategic patience” is over–the time when people waited to see when the President would turn “presidential”.

    Apparently, it’s not going to happen.

    A good analysis of the effects of Trump in the world of foreign policy can be found in Politico:


    Over their year of living dangerously with Trump, foreign leaders and diplomats have learned this much: The U.S. president was ignorant, at times massively so, about the rudiments of the international system and America’s place in it, and in general about other countries. He seemed to respond well to flattery and the lavish laying out of red carpets; he was averse to conflict in person but more or less immovable from strongly held preconceptions. And given the chance, he would respond well to anything that seemed to offer him the opportunity to flout or overturn the policies endorsed by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

    The European diplomat who was told to practice “strategic patience” did not find it all that useful in the several face-to-face meetings with Trump he ended up sitting in on. “We were struck by the absence of knowledge of the president,” he said. Another takeaway: Trump made commitments he then did not deliver on. “On some things, he accepted the argument, and we thought now it is resolved, only to find out later he uses the same phrases and arguments as he did before,” the diplomat said….

    …“The bigger miscalculation on the part of the allies was this sense that, however off base Trump might be on some of our policy positions, the ‘axis of adults’ will always see us through,” says Julianne Smith, the former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden who now heads the transatlantic program at the Center for a New American Security. Summing up a year of contacts with worried European allies, she adds, “The axis of adults, it turns out, are mere mortals, and no, they don’t have superpowers. And that I think has been a rude awakening for a lot of our allies around the world.”…

    …No resignations have yet been forthcoming, but the obvious disarray and uncertainty have left much of the world still wondering how to deal with a Washington that suddenly seems like a very foreign capital. I recently met a senior general of a U.S. ally at a conference. What was it like to deal with Trump’s government, I asked? “It’s a vacuum, a void,” he said. “There’s a complete inability to get answers out of American counterparts who don’t know what policy is.” An international diplomat who has worked extensively on hot spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq told me he has been to Washington five or six times in recent months. His normal contacts at the State Department were so out of the loop, “Frankly, they were asking me, ‘What do you think the White House thinks?’”

    Turning the world over to Xi and Putin on issue at a time.

    For a bonus “feel good” article on Putin’s First Year in the White House, see Andrew Sullivan’s column:

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/06/2018 - 02:56 pm.

      So it looks like now, in the absence of promised and predicted world collapse, the main “beef” with Trumps is his boorish behavior, self-praise, unpredictability, and unconventional approach…

      • Submitted by Joe Musich on 01/06/2018 - 06:46 pm.

        Maybe the collapse is ….

        in slow motion and you are missing it. Those are some awfully pointed reactions in the Politico piece. And the are not only about boorish behavior they refer to lack of leadership questions.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/04/2018 - 11:52 am.

    Oh, Now I Get It

    No wonder why Trump hates the media.

    Game, set, and match to Tapper, thanks to a rookie move by Sanders.

  4. Submitted by Misty Martin on 01/04/2018 - 11:59 am.

    Way to go, Jake Tapper!!!!

    I feel sorry for White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders as well – almost, that is – but wonder how a nice lady like she appears to be, with a Christian background, ever agreed to work for our current POTUS.

    Of course, I have wondered about ALL the people, Christians or otherwise, who chose to elect President Trump anyway. I mean, people should have known what his principles and his character was like – it’s not like they never had any warning. He’s been in the news for decades now. And as my dear old father used to say: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Obviously, that is true, no matter who tries to do it.

    • Submitted by Russell Booth on 01/04/2018 - 02:09 pm.

      Apocalyptic hope motivates Christians

      Technically ‘eschatological hope’ but more commonly called ‘apocalyptic hope’ figures into the reasoning of many Christians who support Trump.

      It is very boring to read theological treatises and even moreso evangelism, but many sociologists have studied apocalyptic hope. I recommend you put “sociology” into your search terms if you wish to research this angle.

      • Submitted by chuck holtman on 01/04/2018 - 04:25 pm.

        I don’t have the motivation to do that reading

        But tell me, is “eschatological hope” synonymous with “nihilism”? I can’t see another motivation to have voted for Trump other than the desire that it all just go away, whether that desire is acknowledged or sublimated.

  5. Submitted by Cameron Parkhurst on 01/04/2018 - 03:21 pm.

    No pity for SHS

    She knew what she was getting into and jumped in with both feet. She is quick thinking as unlike Sean Spicer, she has coherent answers (not necessarily logical) to questions about Trumps tweets. I just wonder if the press corp ever bursts out laughing when she responds to a question.

  6. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/04/2018 - 09:51 pm.

    “Current occupant,” “current incumbent” – it looks like Mr. Black is following the steps of many who try to find euphemisms for “he who should not be named” (by the way, doesn’t “incumbent” already mean “current?”) which should be beneath a good journalist. Unfortunately, Mr. Black, just like many liberals, has been disappointed and angry, first, at Trump’s winning the elections and beating Hillary Clinton, second, at his staying in the office without ruining America as they predicted and, third, doing something (actually, a lot) that people like.

    The interesting thing is that by doing so liberals force people like me (and most likely practically every non-liberal commenting here plus numerous others) into defending Trump who we do not like and often disagree with. But we feel obligated to do it to defend justice and the truth, just like a criminal defense attorneys defend otherwise unpleasant people who are still innocent of crimes they are accused of. And it is quite possible that this is how Ms. Sanders feels…

    On the other hand, if Trump lies, is it an excuse for everyone else to do the same? Shouldn’t the true journalists be above the fray, keep impartiality, and report verified and relevant facts only? For example, in just two days after Christmas, Melania Trump was accused of cutting a 200 years old tree in front of the White House and for a bad holiday selfie while here kids were accused of having a confederate flag on the background of a lake picture and criticized for wearing bikinis… And that is Trump’s family, not him personally…

    By the way, here is a good read of the author that Mr. Black seems to respect:

    • Submitted by Nick Foreman on 01/05/2018 - 02:59 pm.

      He has and will continue to ruin the country

      The sad part is his actions will destroy the very angry lower middle class who have foolishly supported him but will receive nothing in return!

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/05/2018 - 04:50 pm.

      Shoe, Meet Other Foot

      I did not vote for Obama, a centrist Democrat who gave Corporate America nothing to fear and a soaring stock market they loved and gave the labor movement nothing. But the outright lies of the conservative media echo chamber “forced” me to defend him. He was not a socialist. He was not a Muslim (who curiously was attacked for being a disciple of the Christian preacher Jeremiah Wright). He did not give out “Obama phones”. He actually was born on US soil.

      And still today, I have to point out that the Don Trump stock market rally actually started in March of 2009, the same rally Don Trump called a bubble about to burst back during the election.

      So I feel you pain. Mr. Gutman. I even defended Mrs. Obama when she was criticized for wear (gasp!) a sleeveless dress (the horrors).

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/05/2018 - 10:10 pm.

        Good for you because I defended Obama when he was wrongly accused, too. Have you ever defended Trump?

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/06/2018 - 10:06 am.

          Trump is provably wrong so often

          it’s hard to accuse him wrongly.
          Another case of false equivalency.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/06/2018 - 10:41 am.

          An Entire Four Years?

          If he goes the full four years, I likely will. I just don’t think progressives don’t have to make up stuff about Don Trump the way the Faux News crowd did about Obama. For the most part, the truth, and messy detail most politicians and a foreign concept to Trump, suffices against said incumbent.

  7. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 01/05/2018 - 06:40 am.

    Press secretaries are now the news

    I’ve been following politics for nearing fifty years and never before this can I remember these press briefings being the news itself, not just a conduit for news and information. It all started on the first day when Spicer had to come out and tell an obvious lie about the size of the inauguration crowd.

    Did you ever take a job and found out on the first day that your boss was nuts or your duties weren’t as described in your interview? Did you stay once you realized your mistake? Spicer and Sanders are just victims entitled to sympathy, they are collaborators in this attempt to destroy a free press and weaken democracy. There’s nothing “Christian” about that.

  8. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/05/2018 - 11:44 am.

    I’ve often thought…

    A nice next phase for our former Jr. Senator would be a forum (weekly cable news like) on the truth.

    Being a thoughtful left wing kook, I attended Liz Winstead’s New Years Eve show: a round up of 2017 news. You can imagine how that went. Most entertaining for those who agree with her, like me.

    It’s all about outrage, and from the left’s perspective it was an outrage bounty crop year. I also can understand how the right could take many of the Obama years and generate their own outrage. Both are based on some kind of perceived, fact based validity.

    What’s changed is the topic at hand:

    “everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.”

    The departure from the truth is the single biggest problem we face. Look at PoliFact or FactCheck and we can see that historically politicians, left, right and center, spin the truth 30% of the time, sometimes just a little, sometimes a flat out lie. Trump has more than doubled this rate and I see no change in sight other than going up.

    If we all have our own set of facts, we will feel very good about our positions: “I’M RIGHT!!!” but nowhere on any progress towards a reason compromise: why compromise when I’m always right and you’re always wrong.

    Yet almost everyone would sit a constantly lying 5 year old down and have a heartfelt discussion on the importance and beauty of truth telling. This could even include our President.

    How can we start to move the needle towards “truthiness”? By possibly following the same formula that got us Trump in the first place: Reality TV. Make truth entertaining, make truth the winning element. Ridicule “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”. Franken already owns the rights.

    Put a bounty on lies, imagine Trump lies: prove that more people were on the mall for his inauguration than Obama’s and win $10,000,000. Given the volume and magnitude of Trump lies one could soon be richer than Donald Trump if you could just prove he speaks the truth 50% of the time. Pelosi and Schumer untruths are eligible for the contest too.

    Our thin skinned President may even flip over from FOX, or maybe FOX wants the rights?

    55 Minutes of weekly hilarity and 5 minutes of tear filled sincerity on the importance of the truth.

    Help us out here Al…

Leave a Reply