The White House press corps should force Donald Trump’s new press secretary to explain why she denied objective reality on his behalf last year.
On this date in 2016, Stephanie Grisham, who will be the next White House press secretary, was accompanying then-candidate Donald Trump on a tour of his golf courses in Scotland. Trump had arrived the day before, on June 24, 2016, for the grand opening of his renovated Turnberry golf resort, accompanied by a scrum of reporters dispatched to cover his campaign for the presidency who found themselves reporting instead on a promotional event.
Since Trump touched down just hours after the results of the previous day’s Brexit referendum were announced, reporters pressed him for comment on the vote to leave the European Union. He praised the success of the anti-EU campaign and attributed it to voters being “angry over borders — they’re angry over people coming into the country and taking over, and nobody even knows who they are.”
Ignoring the fact that the people of Scotland had voted overwhelmingly against leaving the EU, Trump, the son of a Scottish immigrant to the United States, tweeted at 10:21 a.m. local time that there was widespread enthusiasm there for the outcome.
During the subsequent ribbon-cutting and news conference, Trump said that he was unconcerned about the sudden drop in the value of the British pound following the vote, since it would be good for him, by encouraging more Americans to visit his golf course.
Last year, when Trump returned to Britain as president, things took a turn for the weird. At a news conference during mass protests against him, Trump responded to a question about the protracted Brexit negotiations by claiming that he had predicted the outcome during his 2016 visit to Turnberry, which he mistakenly said had taken place the day before the referendum, not the day after it.
“Well, if you remember I was opening Turnberry the day before Brexit, and we had an unbelievably large number of reporters there,” Trump recalled, hazily. “And they all showed up on the ninth hole, overlooking the ocean, and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ And all they wanted to talk about was Brexit. Then they asked for my opinion, and I think you will agree that I said, ‘I think Brexit will happen,’ and it did happen, and then we cut the ribbon.”
His false claim was quickly noted on Twitter by Jon Sopel, the BBC News North America Editor, who had been in the press pack at Turnberry that day in 2016.
Bizarre. @realDonaldTrump says he came to Turnberry the day before Brexit and he told everyone that he thought Brexit would happen. And that he predicted correctly what would happen the next day. Umm. Not true. He came the day after Brexit. I was there. June 24 pic.twitter.com/bVRxpMJTKY— Jon Sopel (@BBCJonSopel) July 13, 2018
Less than an hour later, Stephanie Grisham, who had by then graduated to the role of communications director for first lady Melania Trump, made the striking decision to deny objective reality in defense of Trump’s delusion of grandeur. Grisham insisted to Sopel that Trump had arrived in Scotland on the day of the referendum, June 23, 2016, in plenty of time to predict the outcome.
Sopel, at something of a loss to comprehend how a senior White House press official could fail to admit such an obvious error, politely pressed his case, but Grisham refused to give an inch to objective reality.
Nope. I have photos. I also have a newspaper from the morning after Brexit. I remember sitting in a pub the night before, watching the results come in.— Stephanie Grisham (@StephGrisham45) July 13, 2018
Some British journalists were less inclined to argue with her.
When a BuzzFeed News reporter provided further evidence — a screenshot of Grisham’s own date-stamped tweet of the media awaiting Trump’s arrival in Scotland on June 24, 2016 — she stopped replying to questions.
Some time later, Grisham made it impossible for reporters to access the smoking tweet she posted that day by changing the privacy settings on the Twitter account she had used during the 2016 campaign.
Trump, shielded in this way by courtiers like Grisham from the truth, has continued to repeat the false claim that he brilliantly predicted the outcome of the Brexit referendum during his visit to Turnberry the day after it took place.
Earlier this year, during a White House visit by the Irish leader, Leo Varadkar, Trump diverted a discussion of Brexit by again boasting about the prediction he did not, in fact, make at Turnberry.
“I predicted it was going to happen, and I was right, and people laughed when I predicted it,” Trump told a reporter who confirmed during the exchange that she had been with him that day in Scotland. “And I was standing out on Turnberry and we had a press conference and people were screaming. … That was the day before, if you remember — I think you were there — and people were screaming, and I said, ‘No, I think it’s going to happen.’ And people were surprised I made the prediction.”
It was all nearly too much for poor Jon Sopel’s nerves.
Apparently living in a world where objective reality is not a primary concern, Trump then repeated the false story about his remarkable prescience during his state visit to the United Kingdom earlier this month.
Trump repeats the previously debunked false claim that he predicted the Brexit vote “the day before it happened,” during his visit to Scotland to re-open Turnberry golf resort. He arrived in Scotland the day after the referendum, when the result was known, not the day before it. pic.twitter.com/YWlvasYLrA— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) June 4, 2019
Asked, again, to comment on specific aspects of the Brexit talks, Trump at first appeared flustered, but then retreated into the comforting false memory of his brilliant prediction. “Well I don’t like to take positions in … things that I’m not, you know … really, uh,” Trump began, uneasily. “I understand the issue very well,” he suddenly said. “I, really, predicted what was going to happen. Some of you remember that prediction — it was a strong prediction — made at a certain location on a development we were opening the day before it happened.”
After Melania Trump made the announcement on Tuesday that Grisham would succeed Sarah Huckabee Sanders as the White House press secretary, Jon Sopel congratulated her and made light of their “minor Twitter disagreement.”
Sopel’s tweet was generous and did reference the fact that Grisham had gone to the mat to avoid admitting that Trump had made an obviously false claim.
But if he wants to do his profession, and the truth, a service, the BBC reporter should consider asking Grisham to at least acknowledge Trump’s error, and her own, the first time he gets to question her in the White House briefing room. And if she tries to dodge the question, Sopel’s colleagues in the White House press corps should learn from the example of Dutch reporters, who memorably refused to let Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra, off the hook for lies he’d told about their country before taking the job.
Respect for objective reality really is the least we can ask of this government’s chief spokesperson.