DENVER – “Lying Donald Trump can’t be trusted, and that needs to stop now.”
That headline screamed from the editorial page of the Denver Post Thursday morning, as The Post’s Editorial Board took a firm stance early in Donald Trump’s presidency that it would not tolerate the lies and “alternative facts” he and his spokesman have propagated in their first week in the White House.
“The United States of America deserves to have a president who tells the truth,” reads the editorial, first published online Wednesday afternoon. “The fact that we feel compelled to make this observation, so early in the new presidency of Donald Trump, suggests that the country is in for a long and miserable four years.”
The Post’s Editorial Pages Editor, Chuck Plunkett, told Denver7 Thursday the board “felt betrayed” Wednesday morning, after the president continued to promote lies that up to 5 million people had illegally voted in the General Election, since it had called Trump’s inaugural speech a “refreshing promise to the people” on Jan. 20.
“We gave the president the benefit of doubt. We took a lot of heat on that one,” Plunkett said of the Inauguration Day editorial. “We said it was refreshing he was focusing on serving not just his base, but all Americans.”
But the president’s continued insistence that he had the largest inauguration crowds of all time and that millions had voted illegally in the election, which came without substance or fact, proved to be enough for the board to change its tone by Thursday.
“To be the president of all the people, and to give what must have been lip service to the idea that patriotism has no room for prejudice, as he did in his inaugural promise, means putting aside these divisive myths,” Thursday’s editorial said.
“Surely, anyone that assumes the office of the president realizes there is gravity there and it’s time to start acting presidential,” Plunkett told Denver7. “Our hope is he would. He turned around and resorted to…telling lies. We couldn’t stand it. Something needed to be done now.”
The Post Editorial Board endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton a month before the election, calling Trump a “lewd, bigoted, untested blowhard” and saying, “A vote for Trump would support an unconscionable threat to core American values and national security.”
Plunkett noted Thursday that past presidents have also told lies, pointing to the false premise of weapons of mass destruction that led the U.S. to war in Iraq under the George W. Bush administration, and initial falsities released by the Obama administration in the hours that followed the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
“Rightfully, you call presidents out when they do those things,” he said.
But the board’s move Thursday to publish the scathing editorial so soon into Trump’s presidency had little precedent, he noted.
“George W. Bush and Barack Obama, while they campaigned and while they were president, usually you could tie what they were saying down to facts and it came down to the interpretation of what the president is doing with those facts,” Plunkett said.
But Trump, Plunkett said, spent the campaign spreading falsehoods about credible press reports. And now, the falsehoods have continued into the White House.
The editorial says Trump and his staff need to demand of themselves that “comments presented to the American people can be trusted and supported by legitimate – and not “alternative” – facts.”
“Without that basic level of trust, the very functioning of our federal government and our nation will be at risk,” the board wrote.
Plunkett was a politics editor at The Post for five years, and said his role as editorial editor leaves him more leeway to call the news as he and the other four people on the editorial board see it.
“When you would see [politicians] say something that wasn’t true, it would make me furious and I wished I could call it out,” he said. “If I’m going to be an effective editorial page editor, I want to do just that…we are supposed to be the truth, the voice of the voiceless. If you have the leader of the free world telling lies, you’ve got to call them out.”
Plunkett said the editorial brought in heavy traffic for denverpost.com Thursday and an influx of letters to the editor.
“We normally receive 500 letters to the editor all week. By 10 a.m., we had 200 just on that editorial,” he said.
He said the response to the editorial from readers was “overwhelmingly positive” but that some people had flooded the switchboards at The Post with negative calls as well. He said some had threatened to end their subscription to the paper, but that even more had actually bought or renewed subscriptions Thursday.
As of 4 p.m., the story was still the most-read of the day on the website.