Facts Not in Evidence

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, June 19, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP

I wanted to flag a quick thing about coverage of the Russia story. This paragraph is from an overnight Times story.

The Trump family, friends said, always draws closer under intense pressure. But Mr. Trump bridles at the idea that his children, who have not spent years in the public spotlight like him, are now facing unrelenting scrutiny over what he believes to be a manufactured scandal by the news media.

Let me start with a caveat. This is not a criticism of the Times. Virtually identical wording can be found in accounts from numerous other news organizations. Indeed, I’m sure similar phrasings have shown up in our pages. I note this passage not to criticize the Times but only to use this as an example for a general point.

This is clearly what the President says. It is likely even what he says to his advisors. After all, we have all those examples of his telling colleagues and staff at weird moments that he’s not under investigation. He couldn’t help telling Sergei Lavrov he wasn’t under investigation when the Russian Foreign Minister was in the Oval Office the day after he fired James Comey. (I actually had to ask colleagues a few moments ago whether that really happened or whether I was remembering a joke I told at the time. It did happen. That’s where we are.) But the idea that the President believes this is a phony scandal manufactured by his enemies rests on the premise that he doesn’t think anything actually happened. And that is at this point a very dubious proposition.

This may seem like a narrow point. But we are at the point where it is a significant one. Assuming that this is what the President believes as opposed to what he says is just not supported by reporting or available evidence. We don’t need to assume he’s lying. But it’s best to state it as a claim rather than a fact.