In addition to giving us the unmitigated disaster that is Donald J. Trump, the 2016 election season also introduced a new term into the lexicon: fake news. And since the topic of fake news has entered the conversation, Trump and his allies have routinely used the term to attempt to discredit any news story that is unfavorable or unflattering to them.
Andrew Puzder, Trump's pick for Labor Secretary, is such a despicable character that even some Republicans were coming out in opposition to him, causing him to withdraw his nomination. Now he wants everyone to know that he was done in by "fake news." His only problem is he can't seem to identify exactly what was fake about the coverage.
Puzder spoke to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt and blamed what he called "a tsunami of fake news" for his withdrawal. He pointed a finger at Huffington Post and Politico in particular, but offered no specifics about what stories those outlets had run that were false.
There were a number of reports circulating about Puzder's treatment of his employees as CEO of the fast food restaurant chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr. Those reports had put his confirmation in question from day one. But there were two issues that were so egregious that when they came out it was obvious that he would not win Senate approval.
Politico points to The Huffington Post's story about Puzder's employment of an undocumented worker and The Wall Street Journal's report that he hadn't paid back taxes on that employee until after he was nominated to Trump's cabinet. Puzder has never challenged the accuracy of either story, they say.
The other issue that dogged Puzder was the allegation made by his ex-wife Lisa Fierstein that he had physically abused her some years ago. She first made the claim on Oprah Winfrey's show in 1990 and later recanted. But Politico recently noted there were inconsistencies in her recantation that didn't fit with the accounts in the public record. It was that issue that was likely the 500 pound weight that broke the camel's back.
Puzder is just the latest inhabitant of Trump world to use "fake news" as an explanation for negative stories. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has thrown out the claim on several occasions. And of course The Donald himself has been using it with increasing frequency for weeks.
The "reporting" of right-wing sites was the reason for most of the outcry against "fake news" after the election. But it is now the right, including the administration, that has attempted to turn the "fake news" outrage to their advantage. By simply claiming a negative story is "fake news" thousands of Trump minions will gleefully nod and repeat the claim on social media and in discussions with friends. It's an ideal way to avoid being forced to defend the indefensible, as Andrew Puzder has obviously figured out.
Samuel Johnson famously observed that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." In more recent times some have opined that religion, national security, or, especially in the case of Richard Nixon, executive privilege has replaced "patriotism" in that statement. In Trump's circle it appears the last refuge of a scoundrel is now a claim of "fake news."