The political rhetoric of Donald Trump and Alex Jones: On fake news and weaponized communications


“Again you’re in trouble for saying the sky is blue.” Alex Jones to Donald Trump, December 2015.

Good day Austin:

I was at Revival, a nice cafe on East 7th Street, working on this First Reading late yesterday afternoon about a discussion I will be moderating at the Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday morning.


The Political Rhetoric of Donald Trump and Alex Jones: On Fake News and Weaponized Communications
Charlie Warzel, senior technology writer at BuzzFeed and Jennifer Mercieca, historian of American political discourse and author of the forthcoming book, “Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Brilliance of Donald Trump,” will speak with Austin American-Statesman chief political writer Jonathan Tilove about the limits of fake news in the age of Trump.

This event is part of Open Congress, a free, open-to-the-public street festival held on Austin’s historic Congress Ave. on Saturday, Sept. 29. RSVP to attend Open Congress here.

Presented by the Austin American-Statesman
Walmart Partner Tent, Open Congress

At some point, I paused to check Twitter and saw this.



So, while I’m sitting there trying to figure out the best way to describe weaponized communication and what Jennifer, Charlie and I will talk about Saturday morning, President Trump was strafing America, the world, with some freshly weaponized communication.

Thank you, Mr. President.


The best way to understand Donald Trump’s presidency and Donald Trump’s election as president, is to study his  rhetoric – his rhetorical brilliance – because it is that, and not his policy chops, his negotiating skills or anything else, that best explains how he gained power and maintains it, unless and until he is impeached by the House, convicted by the Senate and removed from office (either that or removed a la the Rod Rosenstein conspiracy – or not – via the 25th  Amendment) – which seems far less likely to happen than his being elected to a second term.

TRUMP: They’ll use anything they can! They’re not in love with me. They’re not going to beat me in the election. They know that. They’re not going to beat me. The people that I’m looking at are total light weights. I dream of running against those people. Maybe they’ll come up with somebody that’s not. They’re not going to beat me. I’m against what they want to I’m in favor of law enforcement. I’m in favor of safety and security and low taxes. I want low taxes. I want borders. We’re getting another $1.6 billion in borders. I want borders. We’ve spent 3.2, and we’re getting another 1.6. And then eventually we’re getting the whole thing and we’ll complete the wall.

They don’t want that. They don’t want that. They don’t want the things that I have. Now, I must say. I know many of the Democrats. They’ll say things and then wink at me. And, again, it’s the same old story. They’ll say things, they don’t mean it, it’s politics. The reason they don’t want me is because they want to run the show. They want it. It’s power, it’s whatever you want to call it.

But what they have done here is a disgrace. A total disgrace. And what they do — I know it’s interesting. In one case, they say, he’s a fascist, he’s taking over the government, he’s the most powerful president ever. He’s a horrible human being. He wants to take over the entire government and he’s going to do it. We can’t stop him. That didn’t work. The next week, he said, uh, he’s incompetent. I said, wait a minute, in one case I’m taking over the world. And in the other case, he’s they tried that for a week. That didn’t work. Look, these are very dishonest people. These are con artists. And the press knows it. But the press doesn’t write it. That’s a lot of hands. That’s a lot — Steve, go ahead. Here’s a very high-quality person, this man. But he’ll probably hit me with a bad one. Go ahead, give it to me, Steve.

From Julie Hirschfeld Davis at the New York Times:

President Trump complained on Wednesday that “evil people,” including women in search of fame and fortune, routinely fabricate sexual assault charges against powerful men, and argued that his own experience with such allegations makes him more skeptical of the accusations threatening to bring down Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, his nominee for the Supreme Court.

In a remarkable and rambling 83-minute news conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Trump was by turns combative, humorous and boastful. He defended Judge Kavanaugh and railed against what he called the “big, fat con job” that he said Democrats were perpetrating to derail the nomination, even as he suggested he could still jettison his pick depending on the outcome of a high-profile hearing on Thursday

Or a genius.

From David Graham at the Atlantic:

At a rambling, often self-contradictory press conference Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump baselessly claimed a vast conspiracy to concoct sexual-misconduct charges against him and offered a surprisingly weak defense of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee who has been accused by three women of sexual misconduct.

 “I’ve had numerous accusations about me … They made false statements about me knowing they were false,” Trump said. When a reporter asked why the president always seemed to give the benefit of the doubt to men accused of sexual misconduct, he acknowledged that the allegations against him colored his response to the claims made against Kavanaugh. “It does impact my opinion … because I’ve had a lot of false charges made at me.”

More broadly, Trump offered a broad critique of the #MeToo movement and the growing calls for accountability in cases of sexual misconduct, implying they had gone too far.

“This is beyond Supreme Court. This has everything to do with our country,” Trump said. “When you are guilty until proven innocent, it is just not supposed to be that way … In this case you are guilty until proven innocent. I think that is a very, very dangerous standard for our country.”
Trump attacked Democrats and others for bringing forth the allegations.

“They’re actually con artists, because they know how quality this man is, and they’ve destroyed a man’s reputation,” the president said. “They know it’s a big, fat con job. And they go into a room and I guarantee you they laugh like hell at what they’ve pulled off on you and on the public.”

Yet Trump refused to rule out withdrawing Kavanaugh’s nomination, and speculated about nominating a woman in Kavanaugh’s stead, even as the White House and Kavanaugh himself have spent the past 48 hours staunchly insisting that they will forge forward.

 “I can’t tell you. I have to watch tomorrow,” he said. “I’m gonna see what happens tomorrow. I’m gonna be watching … I’m gonna see what’s said.”

REPORTER: Are you at all concerned at the message that is being sent to the women who are watching this when you use language like con job? Allegations —

TRUMP: That’s probably the nicest phrase I’ve ever used. Con job. It is. It’s a con job. You know, confidence. It’s a confidence job. But they — it’s a con job by the Democrats. They know it.

REPORTER: What about the message that’s being sent to women —

TRUMP: The same with the Russia investigation. They tried to convince people that I had something to do with Russia. There was no collusion. Think of it. I’m in Wisconsin. I’m in Michigan. I say, gee, we’re not doing well. I won both those states. I’m not doing well. Let me call the Russians to does anybody really believe that? It’s a con job. And I watch these guys, little Adam Schiff and all of the guys. He takes a call from a Russian who turned out to be a faker. You know, he was a comedian or something. This is so-and-so calling for — he took the call. Why is he taking a call from a Russian? Senator [Mark] Warner took a call from a Russian. He was a comedian or something. But he said, we have pictures of President Trump — where can I get them? If we ever did that, it would be a big deal. Yeah, it’s a con job, and it’s not a bad term. It’s not a bad term at all.

REPORTER: Are you worried —

TRUMP: I’ll tell you one thing I can say. I have had a lot of people talking about this to me with respect to what’s happening. Because it’s a horrible I’m going to have to get other judges and other supreme court judges, possibly. I could have a lot of supreme court judges, more than two. And when I called up Brett Kavanaugh, spoke to him and his family and told them that I chose them, they were so happy and so honored. It was as though — I mean, the about biggest thing that’s ever happened. And I understand that. US Supreme court. I don’t want to be in a position where people say “No, thanks. No, thanks. I don’t want to. You know, I spoke to somebody 38 years ago, and it may not be good.”

We have a country to run. We want the best talent in the world. But I’ll tell you this. The people that have complained to me about it the most, about what’s happening, are women. Women are very angry. You know, I got 52% with women. Everyone said this couldn’t happen. 52%.

Women are so angry. And I, frankly, think that — I think they like what the Republicans are doing. But I think they would have liked to have seen it go a lot faster. But give them their day in court. Let her have her day in court. Let somebody else have a day in court. But the ones that I find — I mean, I have men that don’t like it. But I have women that are incensed at what’s going on. I’ve always said, women are smarter than men. I’ve said that a lot. And I mean it. But women are incensed at what’s going on. Yes, go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead in the back. Who are you, where are you from?


TRUMP: No, you. That guy looks like he’s shocked. This is going to be not good.

REPORTER: It’s going to be good, sir.

TRUMP: The guy looks totally stunned. Have you ever been picked before for a question?

REPORTER: Yes, sir, but not from the president of the United States.

TRUMP: Go ahead. Give me your question.

REPORTER: Thank you very much. I I want to ask you, you always talk about —

TRUMP: Excuse me, you said from where?

REPORTER: Iraq. I’m a Kurd.

TRUMP: Great people. Are you a Kurd? Good. Great people. Great fighters. I like them a lot. Let’s go. I like this question so far.

And there was this:

TRUMP: I want to watch. I want to see. I hope I can watch. I’m meeting with a lot of countries tomorrow. But I will certainly in some form be able to watch. And I’ll also rely on some very fair and talented Republican senators who — look, if we brought George Washington here and we said, we have George Washington, the Democrats would vote against him. Just so you understand. And he may have had a bad past, who knows, you know? He may have had some — I think accusations made. Didn’t he have a couple of things in his past?

George Washington would be voted against 100 percent by Schumer and the con artists. 100 percent. So it really doesn’t matter from their standpoint. That’s why when John asked about the FBI, if the FBI did the most thorough investigation in the history of the FBI, and they found him to be 100 percent perfect, he would lose every single vote.

Anything you’d like to add here Jennifer?

And when did Jones and Trump have this conversation? In their one and only public dialogue, when, in a rendezvous arranged by Roger Stone, Trump, at Trump Tower, appeared remotely on InfoWars with Jones in December 2015, during which the two masters of their craft lavished praise upon one another.

Trump: My favorite president in the more or less modern era would be Ronald Reagan. I’ve always liked him. And by the way, he was a Democrat. Lot of people don’t know. A liberal Democrat Alex as you know. And he became a somewhat conservative, I wouldn’t say the most conservative, but a somewhat conservative Republican. But he wanted to make America great. And he really did.  He wanted to make it. He had actually, “Let’s make America great,” that was his, and mine is, “Make America great again.” So there’s a little bit of a difference.

Alex Jones: My son finally sold me on being a bigger supporter of yours. I mean I liked you, love America, you’re pure Americana. I’m still, you know, was, but my 13-year-old son is really smart, he has done a lot of research. He watches all the debates. He just really loves you. He is on cloud nine that you’re here –  Rex Jones – and it was his question, you know which president was your favorite. But all time, all time who is your favorite?

Trump: Well, all time I’d say Ronald Reagan, shorter term. I would say,well you know, you look at Lincoln, you look at Washington. You have to go with, they are the classics. Right Alex? You know you think in terms of the great classics, you have to go with the Lincolns and the Washingtons.

Alex Jones: I agree, he was a man’s man. George Washington was a badass.

Trump: Yeah that’s what they say. I mean that’s what they said. they say he never told a lie. Let’s hope that’s true, okay.

But George Washington was pretty good. Look we had some great presidents. So we had some good presidents on the other side too in all fairness. But we will hopefully be right at the top of that list.

Here was how the Alex Jones December 2015 interview with Trump starts out.

Alex Jones: Well we had Matt Drudge about a month ago in studio, only does interview every 3, 4 years, and I thought that got me excited. But I’m telling  you, Donald Trump is our guests ladies and gentlemen for the next 30 minutes or so. And obviously he is a maverick, he’s an original, he tells it like it is. He doesn’t read off a teleprompter, neither do I. He’s self-made. This whole media operation that reaches million people a week worldwide, conservatively, self-made.

That’s why I’m so excited. And he joins us from Trump Tower in New York City. He is the leading 2016 Republican presidential contender. Donald Trump again joins us. And I’ve got so many questions but first off, Donald thank you for joining us.

Donald Trump: Thank you Alex, great,  great to be with you.

Alex Jones: I’ve got so many questions but you are vindicated, this has got to be the 50th time the last six months, on the radical Muslims celebrating not just  in New Jersey, but New York, Palestine all over. What do you have to say?  They’re still attacking you, though we’ve got Dan Rather on video, we’ve got New York Post, we’ve got Washington Post, we’ve got, I mean what’s going on here?

Donald Trump: Well I took a lot of heat and I was very strong on it and I held my line and then all of a sudden, you know, hundreds of people were calling up my office. I was the other day in Sarasota, Florida, and people are in line and we had 12,000 people, which is fantastic. And the people were saying, many of the people from New Jersey, 4 or 5 people, said Mr. Trump I saw it myself, I was there

They talked about Patterson. But they said, “I saw it myself, Mr. Trump. I was there.” So many people have called in and on Twitter, @realdonaldtrump,they were all tweeting.

So I know what happened and I held my line and people wanted me to apologize, and we can’t do that. People like you and I can’t do that so easily. Now we can do it if we’re wrong Alex. You apologize. I’d apologize if I was wrong. But they were celebrating and they were celebrating the fall of the World Trade Center.

I think that’s disgraceful.

Disgraceful. And also not true.

From Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post Fact Checker:

The Pinocchio Test
This appears to be another case of Trump’s overactive imagination, much like his baseless claim that the George W. Bush White House tried to “silence” his Iraq war opposition in 2003. We looked and looked — and could find absolutely no evidence to support his claim.

But that was merely a matter of self-aggrandizement, whereas now Trump has defamed the Muslim communities of New Jersey. He cannot simply assert something so damning; he must provide some real evidence or else issue an apology.

Update: Despite Trump’s efforts to throw up a lot of smoke, such as snippets from news clips, he continues to fail to demonstrate that his claim that he saw “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheering on TV has any basis in reality. The Four Pinocchios continue to stand.

Four Pinocchio

Kessler: He must provide some evidence or else issue an apology.


As Trump told Jones, “You apologize. I’d apologize if I was wrong.”

And, in fact, Jones, under threat of lawsuit, has apologized and backtracked on occasion and is receding from public view amid bans by social media platforms.

Alex Jones: I am the most banned person in the 21st Century. There is no doubt that I am the most demonized and attacked person in the world today.

While Trump, president of the United States, bigger and better than ever, said he would only apologize if he was wrong, which, so far, he never has been, so he never has apologized for anything and, as president of the United States, no one can make him.

He is, said Mercieca, the “uncontrollable leader” which, she said, “is another word for a demagogue.”

Forget Pinocchios. The better measure is Alex Jone’s blue sky test.

As he told Trump a couple of times during his December 2016 interview: Again, you are in trouble for saying the sky is blue.

Meanwhile, Trump nemesis Michael Avenatti will be at the TribFest on Friday.

And we’ll see what happens today.

(Which one is up for re-election?)

And maybe I’ll see some of you Saturday.


Author: Jonathan Tilove

Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s