There’s a big spat over Donald Trump’s comments that he remembers seeing video of Muslims in Jersey City or other towns near NYC cheering the attack on the World Trade Center.

The argument is over whether it happened, whether there is video and so on. Trump is sticking to his memory, and the media is swarming to prove him wrong. CNN in particular is going all out on the effort. There’s no purity of purpose there.

What’s most interesting to me is that there is an emerging consensus among those who are hammering Trump on this that Trump is not “lying,” but likely is thinking of celebrations elsewhere. Since the aspersions that Trump is a “racist” or “Islamophobic” are predicated on a bad intent, whether he is lying as opposed to honestly mistaken seems relevant.

The concept of false or suggested memory is something I’ve often explored both in private practice and in the course I teach. There just are some people who absolutely believe and will swear on a stack of Bibles to something that objectively did not happen — and they always seem to be on the other side of the case from me!

They are not liars, but they are wrong. Proving it is the challenge.

Robert Mackey of The New York Times argues that Trump probably is confusing videos of Palestinians cheering with some memory of it taking place in northern New Jersey, The Video of Celebrations That Was Broadcast on 9/11:

The exact origin of Donald J. Trump’s insistence that he saw live television images on Sept. 11, 2001, of “thousands and thousands” of Arabs in New Jersey “cheering” as “the World Trade Center came tumbling down” remains a mystery.

But while no such images were broadcast that day, and five men of Middle Eastern appearance who were arrested in New Jersey that day for “puzzling behavior,” mistakenly interpreted as joy, were later released without charge, there was actually a video of one small celebration broadcast on American television that day.

Here’s the video the Times posts as proof that Trump probably is mistaken is of Palestinians celebrating:

The article continues:

The recorded footage was broadcast later on an extended version of NBC’s “Today” show at 11:58 a.m., just after a live report from Lower Manhattan, where the second tower had collapsed 90 minutes earlier.

Tommy Christopher at Mediaite takes the same position, including even more video, This Is the Footage Donald Trump Thinks He Saw on 9/11.

The Washington Post argues that Trump also is confusing the two through a common problem of suggestive memory:

“I can’t say that he’s not lying,” said Deryn Strange, a psychologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “But my research, and the research of my colleagues, certainly supports a more charitable interpretation: that this is a false memory.”

There is a well-circulated video clip of Palestinians celebrating the attacks in the West Bank, as The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler has reported. Newspapers, including The Post, stated that police had detained some people in northern New Jersey who were allegedly partying on rooftops and watching the mayhem in New York. The Newark Star-Ledger later reported that “rumors of rooftop celebrations of the attack by Muslims here proved unfounded.”

Trump might have conflated the two in his mind. “I can easily conceive how he could have developed this memory,” Strange said. “All you need is a suggestion.”

Ben Carson says he had such a mistaken memory:

Hours after Ben Carson told reporters he remembers seeing American Muslims celebrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, his campaign said the GOP presidential candidate was “thinking something differently” and does not remember such reaction in the U.S.

“Dr. Carson does not stand by the statements that were reported today. He was hearing and thinking something differently at the the time,” Carson communications director Doug Watts said in a statement on Monday. “He does, however, recall and had his mind focused on the celebrations in the Middle East. He is not suggesting that American Muslims were in New Jersey celebrating the fall of the twin towers.”

Trump is not backing down on his position. But assuming his memory is wrong, that doesn’t mean he’s “lying.”

To quote a great philosopher, it’s not a lie, if you believe it.


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