We’d decided, until now, not to write about this, because we’d been grappling with whether Trump’s over-the-top assertions and possible low-tech doctoring of hurricane maps as they pertain to Alabama is a real story, or just a stupid meaningless distraction.
And we’ve been leaning toward the latter, considering how damn much coverage it’s gotten for something that was essentially nothing until the President made it into a thing by overstating the significance of a possible hurricane incursion into Alabama, and then insisting, repeatedly, he didn’t even make a small mistake. And rolling out doctored “proof” with no apparent point other than to underscore that he was right in the first place. (We, in fact, had completely ignored Trump’s first angry Tweet about it; didn’t even bother to look up what it was about since on the face of it, it was clearly nonsense.)
But the Washington Post’s always intrepid Philip Bump set us straight on that, by reminding us this isn’t really about the weather at all, but Trump’s never-ending, dirty, and quite possibly effective “war on reality”, heightened to a new, ridiculous level.
“Any other president — or, really, nearly any other person— might have simply admitted a mistake in the original tweet and deleted it. Trump can’t do that: Admitting one error means admitting that more might exist out there. Trump’s strategy, mirrored by his allies, is generally to insist that he’s never wrong and has never done the negative things of which he stands accused, whipping up a fog of doubt around everything he does, however minor.”
And that’s right. Bump also points to how Trump managed to support Republican Mississippi Senate candidate Roy Moore (who lost, but is running again), even after he’d been credibly accused of making sexual advances toward underage girls. Moore never admitted it. Denial gave Trump cover or at least room for a shoulder shrug.
So now we come to the matter of Trump quite possibly doctoring a map showing hurricane Dorian’s path perhaps crossing into Alabama, most likely with a Sharpie. Bump doesn’t say definitively that Trump made that alteration himself, since there’s no definitive proof of it. But we will, because: 1) because Trump likes Sharpies, 2) because no one else would probably ever consider pulling a stunt like this in such a blatantly amateurish way and getting away with it, and 3) because when asked if the map was altered by anyone, Trump said “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” (That 3rd thing—to us—is proof enough alone).
Here’s a clip of that statement by the President, which was actually made during a Q&A at a later news conference about opioid addiction (click on the photo to watch):
Yes, at one time, there was an official map showing a small threat to a small part of Alabama. But by the time Trump Tweeted his warning to residents of Alabama that they “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated”, the map of the path of the storm was no longer showing anything close to that.
Which prompted this extraordinary Tweet from the National Weather Service in Birmingham:
At which point Trump could’ve said, “that’s right, I made a small mistake based on early maps I saw, Alabama can sleep well tonight”, or even said nothing, and everything would’ve gone away. Instead, it’s turned into a barrage of Tweets (9 times right now, and counting), and personal attacks, and continued insistence that he didn’t make a mistake—because he never could.
How would this kind of thing play out in another type of crisis or disaster? How much does even something like this discredit those whose job is to report the truth? So, yes, this is news, and it is big, and we made a small mistake not acknowledging that from the beginning. Thank you, Philip Bump.