A return to facts over “fake” news

From Trump’s trial to Biden’s press strategy to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s failure, quit playing games with the facts

By Brian Karem


Published May 9, 2024 9:00AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference held at Mar-a-Lago on February 08, 2024 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference held at Mar-a-Lago on February 08, 2024 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

According to former co-counsel for Trump's first impeachment and Obama White House Ethics Czar Norm Eisen, within the next three weeks, the leading contender for the presidency in the Republican Party may be a convicted felon. Watching Donald Trump on trial in Manhattan “having to sit in front of a jury of his peers,” Eisen said, renews his faith in the “Constitutional process,” established when we became our own country at the end of the 18th century.

“Everyone is equal in the lies of the law,” he reminded me. That’s a fact worth remembering.

I’m just thankful Eisen is sitting in that courtroom in close proximity to Trump instead of me. I spent four years being in close quarters with Trump during his term in office and it felt like viewing the bears in the zoo from within their enclosure.

There are many issues more serious than Trump’s raw dog mentality.

Holding Trump accountable for his actions is something many have dreamed of, and many thought would never happen. It is of particular interest because of what Trump has said he wants to do if he’s re-elected this fall: The dismantling of our democracy and the institution of an effective monarchy where he would act as a King. “We don’t want a King. We got rid of that a long time ago,” Eisen said.

Trump’s proposed policies remain frightening. That’s a fact worth remembering.

There is apparently no low ground Trump won’t inhabit. Yet, Democrats remain upset with current President Joe Biden’s chance of re-election. “It’s frustrating,” one Democratic operative recently told me. The Democrats are worried because no matter how bad Trump is or could be, Biden cannot seem to eclipse him in national polls. “Biden has done great work,” I’m often told, so “how can we possibly be trailing Trump? Hopefully, if Trump’s found guilty, people will stop supporting him.” Democrats blame Biden’s communication team for most of the trouble the president has encountered in making his case for re-election, yet seem unable to impress upon the president the dire circumstances in which he finds himself. It’s a sign of our political environment that the incumbent president may have to rely on a felony conviction of the former president just to give him a legitimate chance of a second term. 

That’s one sentence I’d never thought I’d have to write in my lifetime.

I also thought I’d never have to say this: The former president allegedly didn’t wear a condom when he had sex with a porn star.

I’m tired of watching President Joe Biden drop the ball, and equally tired of the lurid talk surrounding Donald Trump’s lifestyle.

Years ago, during the height of the Gennifer Flowers scandal involving president Bill Clinton, I interviewed James Carville for Playboy Magazine. I met him on the movie set of the “People Vs. Larry Flynt.” The movie was shooting in a Tennessee county courthouse and Carville was playing the role of a conservative prosecutor in the movie. We did the interview in fits and starts for about three days, and then Larry Flynt allowed Carville the use of his private airplane to fly to Portland Oregon over Valentine’s Day so Carville could meet with his wife Mary Matalin. The bulk of the Playboy Interview with James Carville was thus conducted on the owner of Hustler Magazine’s private jet. That’s a fact.

Several times Carville told me he may have been naïve, but he was sure he was one of the few people who didn’t believe Clinton had sex with Flowers. I replied I was sure I was one of the few people who didn’t care. I didn’t. What a man does when he’s conducting business as president has always been of far more interest to me. Thus, it’s hard to listen to the sordid details of Donald Trump’s peccadillo with Stormy Daniels with any kind of interest – prurient or otherwise.

I do not care how he did it. When. Where. Why. Or any of the intimate details of the consummation of his lurid act. I am far more concerned with his authoritarian policies and the anti-democratic stance he’s taken toward the Justice Department, Congress, federal programs for the poor, education, taxes and our international obligations should this country be cursed enough to see him in office again.

At the same time I’m increasingly concerned with the current administration and how the press staff in the White House has tried to bully and intimidate reporters into limiting our interaction with the press secretary; reducing that interaction to just asking questions in the briefing room. I’m also concerned that Biden has, without a doubt, the worst communication staff I’ve ever worked with in the 40 years I’ve been covering presidents – next to Trump’s staff of course. 

Biden’s staff hasn’t threatened to pull any press passes, they’ve just repeatedly told several reporters that they are making them “uncomfortable” and refuse to allow reporters any access to the press secretary or the president outside of the briefing room (which Biden has never entered). A reminder for those who don’t know any better: It is our job to make the president uncomfortable by holding him and his administration accountable for what they do.

We need your help to stay independent

Mike McCurry, one of the finest to ever hold the job of press secretary, welcomed a healthy give and take with reporters and said the exchange of facts, informally and formally, publicly and privately helped the administration and the country. McCurry was a smart guy. That’s also a fact. 

The lurid nature of Trump’s life is the stuff of legend. His indiscretions are voluminous. His narcissism is unparalleled. His personality is corrosive and his appearance both slovenly and increasingly disheveled. Watching him meltdown in real time has the allure of a WWE smackdown. Watching Biden flounder over Trump in the polls does nothing to increase the public confidence in our national leadership – although Biden’s handling of COVID, infrastructure and student debt should.

Those are real issues with real results. 

But those do not get the attention of Trump’s alleged lack of condoms. Yet there are many issues more serious than Trump’s raw dog mentality.

The Biden administration should relish the opportunity to engage with the press – that they do not is one of the biggest reasons the electorate is still having trouble being more comfortable with a Biden second term. And my colleagues in the press who are obsessed with prurient reporting are doing everyone a disservice by ignoring the serious issues this country faces while failing to illuminate the stark and serious policy differences between Trump and Biden. 

Wednesday afternoon at a House Subcommittee public hearing on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence entitled, “Silent Weapons: Examining Foreign Anomalous Health Incidents Targeting Americans in the Homeland and Abroad,” lawmakers heard for the first time about a problem some thought had been debunked. Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Greg Edgreen of the U.S. Army, Christo Grozev, investigative journalist Christo Grozev and attorney Mark Zaid outlined ongoing energy weapon “attacks against the best of our people,” on U.S. soil and abroad. Able to be concealed in a backpack, the experts testified, “wave weapons” from sonic waves to microwaves may be responsible for more than 68 serious attacks, with some causing death. People attacked have included those who brief the president and a variety of other public servants who were called heroes by the legislators and witnesses.

Few reporters attended the event, however. It got little or no coverage compared to the noise we heard about Donald Trump, his lack of condoms and his attraction to porn star Stormy Daniels because she reminded him of his daughter. And Wednesday was a break for the court.

How important is Trump’s lack of condoms compared to a foreign power systematically targeting our diplomats and analysts across the globe and even on our own soil? That is an act of war.  What should be of interest are the issues that affect us all – not just Donny and his boys. 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

In short, we should never forget the existential threat of Donald Trump and at the same time we should never drop our guard and fail to report on Biden. There is no false equivalency involved. There are merely journalistic standards.

“The Democrats do not understand that the Republicans don’t play the rules,” I’ve been told often by many Democrats, some who say it’s justification for fighting as dirty as the Republicans. “How will you feel about your morals if the Democrats lose?” I’m often asked.

I will feel just fine. I believe that by doing our job, we will expose the facts that need to be reported, and the best candidate for the job of president will become readily apparent. 

For the record, that is obviously not Donald Trump. If we cast our lot with those who think we should concentrate solely on Trump and his childish, shallow antics, what we really do is give Trump a win the only way he can get one; we give credence to Trump’s pernicious, authoritarian movement.

We play right into his hands. He can say we have chosen sides. I won’t do that. We risk empowering the most repressive voices by failing to question all voices. It isn’t the question that should be of concern – but the answer.

Donald Trump’s only answers involve the twilight of Democracy. Everything isn’t a political narrative. Politics builds its narrative from the facts, not the other way around.

Wednesday in a search for facts, another encouraging bipartisan effort in Congress led to the latest, clearest efforts to find out how serious AHIs are and how to deal with them.

The relentless search for facts, as seen in court and mentioned by Norm Eisen show how the facts can hold Trump accountable. 

The press should not abandon its pursuit of facts either. Today many young journalists see themselves as advocates for a noble cause. If that is the case, then the most noble cause is the search for facts – irrespective of ideology or other bias.

There is a reason why Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene was roundly booed in the House late Wednesday when she introduced a motion to remove Mike Johnson as speaker. The facts show he’s been able to work both sides of the aisle and make progress for the country. Greene is a Trump acolyte who wants to tear it all down. The facts show the American public does not favor such action – when the facts are known. 

The facts show Robert F. Kennedy had a worm in his brain that died. It’s merely conjecture to say it died of starvation. Expose the facts and expose the stupidity. Play games with the facts and you risk it all – including our democracy.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

MORE FROM Brian Karem