President Trump deserves every bit of criticism he caught Monday for suggesting that he is unique among U.S. presidents for calling the families of fallen U.S. service members.
"The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls," the president said Monday during a televised press conference in the Rose Garden.
This isn't exactly true. Former President Barack Obama made calls. He also sent letters. Former President George W. Bush may not have phoned many grieving families, but he has spent years campaigning on the behalf of wounded veterans. Bush also met privately with hundreds of relatives of troops killed in action when he still served in the Oval Office, the Washington Times reported in 2008.
Trump suggested otherwise anyway.
"A lot of them didn't make calls. I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice so generally I would say that I like to call," he told reporters Monday.
His comments came in response to a question about why it has taken him so long to comment on an ambush in Niger that saw four U.S. Green Berets killed in action.
Though the president has some wiggle room on the phone call claim, the spirit of his boast is still bogus. He is not unique, and many presidents have gone to great lengths to console families devastated by personal loss. Also, it's worth noting that when Trump bragged about calling the relatives of the four fallen Green Berets, he hadn't actually done it yet.
The president was fact-checked in real-time Monday by NBC News' Peter Alexander, who noted that previous president have, in fact, reached out personally to offer comfort to grieving relatives.
Trump revised his initial comments on live television.
"I don't know if he did," he said. "I was told that he didn't often, and a lot of presidents don't. They write letters…President Obama, I think probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told."
He could have just said that from the beginning and avoided the embarrassing backpedal.
Trump's Rose Garden claim prompted a pile-on from media and online activists, because of course it did. Former Obama aides were particularly aggrieved. Maybe some of the responses to the president's comments have been over-the-top. Maybe Trump's usual critics are allowing their emotions to get the best of them.
But this is a mess of the president's own making.
Things were tougher with presidents like Obama and Bush. They parsed their words carefully. There was always much more wiggle room for them to get away with saying things that were not exactly so. Rare was the occasion when you could say outright: That's an obvious lie.
To be clear, former presidents have definitely lied (some more than others). But it seems presidential falsehoods have never been this easy to disprove. With presidents like Obama and Bush, you had to work to untangle their falsehoods. You had to catch the bogus claim. You had to uncover the truth of the matter, which usually lay somewhere in the murky world of carefully parsed legalese. You had to confront the administration with the freshly excavated truth, and you had to make a compelling case disproving the president's version of reality.
The thing about President Trump is that his falsehoods and misstatements are so glaring and obvious, that it usually takes nothing more than a cursory Google search to disprove him. It's like he's not even trying.
This isn't the 1980s, and we're not easy marks in a real estate deal. We're not going to take the president's salesman-style boasting at face value. He's going to be fact-checked, and he should expect nothing less.
Trump's support base is wasting its time defending him on this phone call incident. Its energy would be better spent encouraging the president to get his facts straight.