President Donald Trump is not one to regularly browse the internet on his own. As such, it often falls to his staff to ensure that pertinent news reports he may not have seen while watching cable news make it to his desk. But some of those news reports are fake — and that’s by design.
A report from Politico, published Monday, indicates that a number of the president’s staffers are intentionally passing Trump fake news. It’s all part of a broader, competitive effort to sway Trump’s opinion on an issue in a direction that favors a preferred policy of theirs.
Trump, a man known to be extremely impressionable depending on who he’s spoken to last, is said to react strongly when he is presented with a new report, particularly a negative one:
A news story tucked into Trump’s hands at the right moment can torpedo an appointment or redirect the president’s entire agenda. Current and former Trump officials say Trump can react volcanically to negative press clips, especially those with damaging leaks, becoming engrossed in finding out where they originated.
And when those stories aren’t even real, they can have the added effect of bolstering the power of blatant lies and inserting false information into the narrative of the executive branch.
Perhaps the most egregious — but far from the only — example of this shady influence competition was a fake TIME magazine cover from the 1970s. It was passed to Trump by K. T. McFarland, his deputy national security adviser, and was positioned as a counterclaim to perceived climate change alarmism. The cover, purportedly dated 1977, read “How To Survive The Coming Ice Age,” and was paired with a (real) 2006 cover with a report on global warming. Together, they were supposed to showcase some kind of hypocrisy.
Whoever created the fake cover even went so far as to alter the headlines above the image as well. The center one, in the black box, was made to read, “Beyond Detente, Why We Can’t Beat The Soviets.”
The cover, part of an internet hoax, was debunked some time ago. TIME itself pointed out four years ago, in 2013, that the 1977 cover was fabricated. It was a knock-off of a 2007 cover with the title “The Global Warming Survival Guide.”
Luckily for the president, in this instance, others stopped an incensed Trump from tweeting about the newly discovered cover. But rather than wholeheartedly denounce the lie and similar deceptive tactics, one staffer said they stood by the general idea:
“While the specific cover is fake, it is true there was a period in the ‘70s when people were predicting an ice age,” the official insisted. “The broader point I think was accurate.”
Even more concerning is the fact that — as is highlighted multiple times in the report — Trump himself appears to lack either the ability or interest in fact-checking these reports himself. In fact, it’s that very quality of his — his propensity to unconditionally believe everything that comes across his desk, that has given rise to a new form of political infighting. Wherein those close to the president attempt to exert control over him by giving or withholding certain information.