Trump vs. Truth: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

Donald Trump spreads a lot of false information thanks to his daily consumption of morning cable news. If only we could sneak some facts into the president’s media diet.
Trump vs. Truth: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 4 Episode 1
Aired on February 12, 2017

Main segment: False or misleading statements by Donald Trump

* * *

Normally, we like to focus this part of the show on complex, depressing policy issues—something fun like CO2 emissions from hearses, space poverty, or the proliferation of special-purpose taxing districts, a topic so boring you didn’t even realize we literally already did that exact story last year. We want to keep doing those kinds of things, but unfortunately, we can’t until we address something even bigger: the concept of reality itself. And that is because of this guy.

Now, since taking office around four hundred and twelve years ago, Trump has made it clear that reality is not important to him. Think about it: he exaggerated the size of his inauguration crowd, said the election was marred by massive voter fraud with no real proof of that, and falsely claimed that compared to Muslims, it was almost impossible for Christian refugees from Syria to get into the U.S. He even lied about the weather during his inauguration.

It was almost raining. The rain should have scared him away, but God looked down and said, “We’re not gonna let it rain on your speech.”

No, he didn’t. It did rain while you were speaking—that’s why your wife was holding up an umbrella and people behind you were wearing ponchos.

And second, if God did lockdown, His only thought would have been, “Wait, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Come on, I’m sick of them, and I’m God. Could you not book silence? Always silent somehow boycotting this thing.”

So, that is where we are currently at. We have a president capable of standing in the rain and saying it was a sunny day. And before we go any further, Donald Trump lies is clearly not a fresh observation. Liberals are probably thinking, “Well, hot plate there, Johnny. Next you’re going to tell me that Obama is aloof, Dick Cheney is evil, and Paul Ryan doesn’t climax—dude checks his Fitbit to see how many calories he’s burned.”

I know if you’re on the other side, if you’re on the right, you’re probably thinking, “Oh great, another blizzard of snowflakes from Last Cuck Tonight with Johnny Trigger-Warning.” And yes, I know all other presidents had lies. PolitiFact found that just over a quarter of President Obama’s statements surveyed were evaluated as some degree of false. But with Trump, that number is currently over two-thirds. Perhaps that is why one reporter covering Trump found himself saying this:

This is what makes covering Donald Trump so very difficult. What does he mean when he says words?

Wow. What does he mean when he says words? We are talking about the president like a Tinder match we’ve been on four dates with. “I asked him if he was going to hang out this Friday, and he said “Prolly… I’m starving. [bicycle emoji] [poop emoji].” What the f*ck does that mean? What does he mean when he says what?”

Trump’s relationship with the truth is going to be of profound importance going forward because any policy discussion has to begin with a shared sense of reality, and Trump’s reality can change within a single sentence.

When you hear “4.9% and 5% unemployment,” the number is probably twenty-eight, twenty-nine, as high as thirty-five. In fact, I even heard recently forty-two percent.

Well, which one is it? Because a 4.9% rate might result in a cautiously constructive monetary policy, whereas a forty-two percent rate might result in “The Purge.”

So tonight, we thought it would be useful to try and answer four basic questions: How did we get a pathological liar in the White House? Where are his lies coming from? Why do so many people believe him? And what can we possibly do about it?

To that first question, Trump’s lying is obviously nothing new. He has a well-documented 40-year history of bullshit. He lied about being invited on this show and about the ratings for The Celebrity Apprentice. He pretended to be his own publicist. His building, Trump Tower, is not as big as he said it is.

He inflated the floor numbers—his 58-story building became a 68-story building.

It made a lot of sense in his mind because if you’re renting a room, you’d rather be on the 14th floor than on the 6th one.

Just spare a thought for confused firefighters turning up to that building with “the smoke alarms going off in penthouse B on the 68th floor, which is apparently an alcove studio on the 58th. Quick, it’s an emergency!”

But lies like that are almost charming. What is less harmless is when he started lying about the president’s birth certificate and then, as a presidential candidate, started making troubling statements like these:

The murder rate in the United States, it’s the worst, the highest it’s been in 45 years.

Now our president wants to take in 250,000 from Syria.

Our gross domestic product, a sign of strength, right? But not for us. It was below zero. Who ever heard of this?

Okay, okay, so just real quick on those: no, it isn’t; no, he didn’t; and no one’s ever heard of a GDP below zero because that is f*cking impossible!


This horrified him for office, but we were so accustomed to Trump nonsense people could just shrug it off as Donald being Donald. Even his own advisers like Peter Thiel argued that people shouldn’t worry about his statements, because he didn’t really mean them.

I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally. And so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment or things like that, it’s not—the question is not “Are we going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China?” or, you know, “How exactly are you going to force these tests?” What they hear is “We’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy.”

Oh yeah, that is definitely the sense I got from watching those Trump rallies. Yes, while we’re all furiously chanting “Build that wall,” we all understand in this context “wall” is a clever use of metonymy, a figure of speech in which one word (“wall” in this example) is used as a stand-in for a saner, more sensible immigration policy.

Now, if you will, let’s unpack Trump the bitch And yet, the travel ban literally happened. And as for the wall:

The wall is getting designed right now. A lot of people say, “Oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall.” Listen kid, I don’t kid.

Exactly. When he says he’s going to build a wall, he means it. Now it might be 30 feet high and labeled as 156 stories, but still, it’s coming. So it was worth taking him seriously. Trump was telling the truth about his solutions to the problems he was lying about. And he is now making real policy based on fake facts.

Which brings us to our second question: Where is his information coming from? Now, Trump himself has admitted he gets a lot of it from TV, which may explain why he speaks so confidently about cable news staples like crime and terrorism. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts aspects of government, like the nuclear triad, he struggles. Now, he famously flubbed a question on the triad during an early debate in an exchange that ended like this:

As a three legs of the triad, which would you have a priority in?

Trump: “Well, I think, I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.

Now, that is terrifying. The components of that triad are important. It is unacceptable not to be able to name every single one of them. They are nuclear weapons, not your children. “What is her name, Donald? What is her name? I’ll give you a hint: it starts with ‘T’ and it’s not the other one.”

You would hope that as president, he is now getting information from primary sources and briefings. But Trump still watches a phenomenal amount of cable news. His tweets frequently echo things that just aired on TV. Just two weeks ago, he tweeted, “Ungrateful traitor Chelsea Manning, who should never have been released from prison, is now calling President Obama a weak leader. Terrible!” Which is interesting because Chelsea Manning never used the words “weak leader,” but that phrase was used on Fox News just 15 minutes before he tweeted it in a segment that also called Manning an ungrateful traitor. So the president seems to tweet about whatever information he just saw on cable news. If someone changed the channel to the Sprout network, we’d tweet, “Caillou’s life is boring, even for a cancer kid. SAD!”

To give you a sense of just how much he watches cable news, a few hours later he was on Air Force One, and you could actually hear the commercials from Fox News blaring in the background.

That’s real. That is the Empire Carpet jingle playing at full blast. Trump just made the interior of Air Force One sound like the living room of an old person who died three days ago and nobody’s found yet.

He watches so much cable TV that he presumably also gets daily briefings from this guy:

I’m a professional cowboy and I use catheters. Been cowboyin’ for 25 years. I’ve broken 14 bones, had two concussions, and a punctured lung. I know pain, and I don’t want any more of it, especially when I can…

Okay, stop. I have so many questions. Is “cathe” a real verb? If you’ve only been cowboyin’ for 25 years, what did you do before you were a cowboy? And why are you in a library? And one that doesn’t want to overdo it with the books? You fascinate me.

But Trump doesn’t just watch cable news; he also takes information in from frighteningly unreliable sources such as Breitbart, the organization which gave us Steve Bannon. Steve Bannon, now Trump’s chief strategist. Breitbart has published such Pulitzer-eligible stories as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” “Racist, Pro-Nazi Roots of Planned Parenthood Revealed,” and “Hoisted High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.” You know, the kind of headline you see your old high school friends share on Facebook and think, “Oh, that’s a shame. I guess Greg sucks now.”

But Trump’s trust in Breitbart actually goes way back. A few years ago, Trump was challenged by Bill O’Reilly, who correctly pointed out that his claim that thousands of Muslims were seen celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11 was based on no evidence whatsoever. And this is how Trump responded:

Well, this just came out from Breitbart. I mean, literally, it just came out. Trump vindicated, 100% vindicated.

Thousands—that would have been reported—they were swarming.

This article says they were swarming all over the place.

So, I don’t know what that means, but it means a lot of people…

Wait. Holding up a Breitbart Holding up a Breitbart article does not make you seem more credible. You might as well have gone, “Oh, hold on a second, Bill. Hello? Okay, Frank? What’s going on? Right, Bill, what sort of talk is that? Talk to them.” And straight choices get even worse because he also cited an article to support his Muslims on 9/11 claim from Infowars, a website run by this guy:

Hillary and Obama want to make you poor and pathetic. We have all their white papers. They hate you, they hate prosperity, they hate God, they hate children, and goddamn them.

Now that man is Alex Jones, and that is actually him at his most presentable. That is Alex Jones at a job interview. That’s Alex Jones meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. In his more outspoken moments, Jones has argued that the government has the ability to control tornadoes, that the Boston Marathon bombing was a false flag attack, and that tap water is a gay bomb and that they are putting chemicals in the water that turn the friggin’ frogs gay. And then there is the Sandy Hook school shooting:

So Sandy Hook is a synthetic, completely fake, with actors, in my view, manufactured. I couldn’t believe it at first. I knew they had actors there clearly, but I thought they killed some real kids. It just shows how bold they are that they clearly used actors.

Now, that is not just offensive; it’s stupid. If the government had actually hired child actors, there is no way their stage parents would have stopped talking about it. “Well, he didn’t get the Tide commercial, but he did land a leading role in a government-sponsored false flag attack. It’s the same director who did the moon landing. We’re very excited.”

Trump is apparently such a fan that Alex Jones himself has said, “It is surreal to talk about issues here on air and then, word for word, hear Trump say it two days later.” And I’d be skeptical of that if Trump hadn’t gone on Jones’s show and said this:

I just want to finish by saying your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down. You will be very, very impressed, I hope, and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.

You know what, I guess it makes sense that Donald Trump wants to impress Alex Jones. Why would you want to drain the swamp if not to eradicate all those gay frogs?

This is really dangerous, though, because there is a pattern here. Trump sees something that jives with his worldview, doesn’t check it, half remembers it, and then passes it on, at which point it takes on a life of its own and appears to validate itself. Let me try to show you that machine in action. Trump’s constant claim that millions of people voted illegally originated, as far as anyone can tell, from some dude on Twitter who claimed in November, while providing no evidence, “We have verified more than 3 million votes cast by non-citizens.” The next day, Infowars picked that up and it spread like jet fuel among the right-wing sites. Now it was quickly debunked by multiple outlets, but despite that, days later President elect Trump started tweeting about millions of illegal votes and serious voter fraud in states like California. And by early December, people were on TV expressing similar concerns:

Voting is a privilege in this country, and you need to be legal. Not like California, where 3 million illegals voted.

Where are you getting your information?

From the media.

And that right there actually answers our third question of why so many people believe Trump. Because if you get your news from similar sources to him, as many, many, many people do, he doesn’t look like a crank. He looks like the first president ever to tell you the real truth. But rumors can be really tenacious, and I’ll prove it. What rumor do you think of when you hear the name Richard Gere? Well, here’s the thing: there is no proof that he did that. If you think about it, it’s ridiculous. Have you ever held one of those things? There’s no way it was possible. But if the president went on TV and told you it was true, you’d go, “I knew it. Thank you. I knew it. Finally, someone said it.”

But that loop gets much more dangerous when you’re not talking about something as silly as gerbils. Trump validated his supporters’ beliefs about voter fraud, and in turn, they validated his. Because even when he was directly confronted with the lack of evidence, this is how he responded:

You know what’s important? Millions of people agree with me when I say that. If you would’ve looked on one of the other networks and all of the people that were calling in, they’re saying, “We agree with Mr. Trump. We agree, there is more people.”

Right, but just because they believe you and you believe them doesn’t make it true.

This is like Peter Pan where believing in fairies will keep Tinker Bell alive. “This isn’t a magic thing, Peter. She has Lou Gehrig’s disease. And maybe instead of clapping, you should’ve done the ice bucket challenge. Then she’d still be alive. I’m sorry, Peter, but she’s dying, Tinker Bell is dying!

The point is, even if you take the kindest approach here and assume Trump made an honest, innocent mistake and passed along a news story without checking it, when he was presented with a lack of evidence, he disregarded that fact, at which point he is lying. And it seems no one in the White House has a problem with that. Because when asked to justify the president’s views, this is what Sean Spicer did:

I think the president had believed that for a while.

A long-standing belief that he’s maintained.

It’s a belief he maintained.

It’s a belief that he’s maintained for a while.

As I noted several times now, he’s believed this for a long time.

It was a comment that he made on a long-standing belief.

I’ve asked and answered this question twice. He believes what he believes based on the information provided.

If he does believe that, what does that mean for democracy?

I’ve answered your question.

Have you?

No, you haven’t, Melissa, no you haven’t. Because this isn’t about belief, it can’t be. The incidences of voter fraud are a verifiable fact. And faith and facts are like Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton—when you confuse them, it actually matters. Real people get hurt when you make policy based on false information. Billions will get spent on a wall that won’t work to prevent a crime wave that isn’t happening, while refugees sit in dangerous situations to prevent Bowling Green-style massacres that never took place.

So what are we going to do? Well, the press is going to be a key element in helping us sort out fact and fiction, and they are under attack. This administration has seized on small corrections in news coverage to paint critical outlets as fake news, attempting to delegitimize all of them. And this is only going to get worse. Steve Bannon has already labeled the media the opposition party, although there does seem to be one exception.

News reports said the only seat that was reserved for the media at Trump’s news conference Wednesday was in the front row, and it was for Breitbart News.

Oh, that is so blatant favoritism. You are Snow White introducing the dwarfs: “Meet Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, F*cking Awesome, Big Dick called Swarf, and the three others.”

And if you think Breitbart went out of their way to ask a challenging question, think again:

Trump: Go ahead.

Matt Boyle: With CNN’s decision to publish fake news and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?

And I actually have two follow-up questions: Does this feel good? And will you let me know when you’re going to come? Just tap my head. Tap my head.

The endgame here is obvious: when they completely delegitimize press, you only go to one source to get your news from, as one congressman happily pointed out:

Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.

Getting your news directly from the leader is basically the philosophy of North Korea. And the notion that our leaders should be able to pass on their truth with impunity should be alarming to absolutely everybody, regardless of politics. Republicans should badly want our sense of objective reality to remain intact, just in case the Democrats ever find their own appealing reality star to win back the White House. RuPaul, for instance. “Make America fierce again.” Hashtag Make America Fierce Again.

So we all need to commit to defending the reality of facts. But it’s going to take work. As we’ve already seen, protests, calls to legislators, and lawsuits are effective ways to try and drag the administration back to reality. But this needs to go down to a personal level as well. We should make extra effort on social media to try and verify stories before passing them on, especially if they confirm our pre-existing biases. Ask questions of yourself like, “Is this a source I know and recognize? Has anyone fact-checked this? Does it link to primary sources, and do those sources match what the story says?” And if you see an outlet repeatedly getting things wrong and never correcting it, maybe stop trusting it, whether that outlet is some idiot’s blog or the White House.

And because I know our president will not follow any of those suggestions, partly because, rightfully, he does not watch this show, so if there is one small way we wanted to try and sneak some useful facts into his media diet, as we now know he watches morning cable news programs, we’ve actually created a series of commercials in an attempt to bring him up to speed. Also, information shows that we know he watches every day. Take a look:

I’m a professional cowboy, and I use catheters. Been cowboying for 25 years, and there’s two things I know: I don’t like pain when I catheter, and the nuclear triad “I’m a professional cowboy, and I use catheters. Been cowboying for 25 years, and there’s two things I know: I don’t like pain when I catheter, and the nuclear triad consists of land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and aerial bombers. This increases our ability to strike back in the event one of those is destroyed and deters an attack on us or our allies. So that’s the nuclear triad, in case you’re the kind of person who might really need to know that.

That ad will air tomorrow morning between 8:30 and 9:00 on all these tunnels in the DC area. Until we shut down, we are prepared to educate Donald Trump one by one on topics we’re pretty sure he doesn’t know about. Here’s just a taste:

It might seem like a show of strength to kill the families of terrorists, but according to the Geneva Convention, it’s actually a war crime. Not all black people live in the inner cities, and not all people in the inner cities are black.

And there’s something you may not know: appetizer fork, entrée fork. Now, I know it can sometimes feel as if you are the only person in the world, but as you can see here, there are actually many non-you people. We call those “other people.”

Just because sometimes it’s cold doesn’t mean there’s no global warming. You’re confusing climate with weather, partner. Gabon is a country on the west coast of Africa. Tiffany, TIF-FA-NY. Kitten.

The unemployment rate is a carefully calculated measure derived from a monthly survey conducted by two federal agencies and has been the agreed-upon standard since 1948.

And that little fella there, is what we call “the clitoris.” Just remember, Donald, if you don’t know, it’s okay to ask. See you tomorrow!



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read More

Weekly Magazine

Get the best articles once a week directly to your inbox!