NEW YORK -- What do you do if you're a presidential candidate and reporters keep challenging the veracity of your claims? If you're Donald Trump, you get your own sources.
On Sunday’s “This Week,” the leading Republican presidential candidate defended his evidence-free claim that “thousands and thousands” of people in Jersey City, New Jersey, cheered the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as the World Trade Center fell. “It did happen,” Trump told ABC News host George Stephanopoulous, who pointed out that the local police contradicted the claim. Trump said that he saw this event “on television” and that it was “well-covered at the time.”
That’s not true. There's no evidence that “thousands of thousands” of people in Jersey City were cheering, footage of which, if it was televised, would surely still exist. And no news organization reported contemporaneously the startling scene Trump claims to have watched.
Trump has become what NBC News has dubbed a “post-truth candidate" -- a persona seemingly reinforced the longer his campaign lasts.
His Jersey City remarks were not the only ones raising eyebrows over the weekend. On Sunday, Trump tweeted bogus, racially charged crime statistics to his nearly 5 million followers. He told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly Monday night that the fake data had come from "sources that are very credible," and suggested it originated with a talk radio show host, though it appears to have just come from a random Twitter user.
While such dabbling in the world of fiction would set another candidate back, or perhaps even ruin his campaign, Trump has been unbowed. And why not? His trusted sources are supposedly telling him different intel -- better, even -- than what the reporters who cover him seem to get.
Trump has claimed to have information from “sources” since the first day of his campaign, when he described the Mexican government as sending “rapists” over the border. “I've heard it from five different sources," he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe." He later told guest Mark Halperin that he’d “reveal my sources when you reveal your sources.”
"I have a lot of information on it and so does everyone else,” Trump said. “And you probably do, too. And for some reason, they don't want to put out this information."
Last month, Trump told audiences and TV interviewers that President Barack Obama wants to accept 200,000 Syrian refugees, despite the administration's announced proposal to take in around 10,000. On Sunday, Trump upped the ante in the same interview with Stephanopoulos, saying the number could reach 250,000.
How'd he know? He heard it.
Trump also told Stephanopolous that a “very good source” claimed to him that “good material” was coming out of the New York Police Department’s discontinued Muslim surveillance program. Who that source is was not revealed.
Last month, Trump told a South Carolina crowd that Obama was considering an executive order to take away their guns, which is not true. When asked about it the next day on CNN’s “New Day,” Trump responded by saying he'd been told as much. “I've heard that he wants to and I heard and I think on your network, somebody said that that's what he's thinking about.”
“My source is the papers,” Trump said. “They're pretty good sources.”
Trump said during the second Republican debate, in September, that there were “25 different stories” written about his opposition to the war in Iraq. The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and The Washington Post have found no reports that Trump publicly opposed the invasion before March 19, 2003. Despite such fact-checking, he has continued making the claim.
And then, of course, there was this episode that preceded the presidential campaign.
Trump's sources usually tend to be very flattering of Trump. Four anonymous candidates once told him he crushed a Republican presidential debate. An anonymous CNN reporter in a "beautiful red dress" told him he won another debate. Back in January, people were telling him all the time that he would be a great host of "Meet The Press."
He chose the campaign trail over the Sunday shows and the media. And ever since, has had a devil of a time figuring out how to call out the falsehoods.
It's not terribly problematic for a candidate in a GOP presidential primary to insist that the press corps is not telling voters the true story, whether it be about guns, border crossings, 9/11 or Muslim surveillance. Republican primary voters reflexively distrust the news media, which helps explain why Trump never backtracks when called to explain the source of his information.
On Monday, the pattern continued. During a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, Trump said “hundreds” of people have called his office or tweeted in support of his claim that "thousands and thousands" were cheering from Jersey City as the twin towers fell. These sources, he said, "were there and they saw this take place on the Internet."
Several hours earlier, responding to The Washington Post’s debunking of his claim, Trump tweeted a paragraph from a Sept. 18, 2001, article in the same paper. The Post reported at the time that authorities had questioned “a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks” in Jersey City. (The reporter who wrote the article said Monday he could "not recall anyone saying there were thousands, or even hundreds, of people celebrating.")
"I want an apology!" Trump wrote.