You can’t serve a ‘truth sandwich’ without the truth

Media’s need to ‘both sides’ Biden and Trump leads to a pretzel of lies.

You can’t serve a ‘truth sandwich’ without the truth

by Jason Sattler | FrameLab contributor

Kristen Welker, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, generated a flurry of outrage last weekend by attempting to sum up the news around Donald Trump’s upcoming criminal trial in New York.

Welker described Trump’s continual threats against a New York judge and his daughter as “attacks.” She also described the case against Trump — in which he falsified business records to keep voters from finding out about his affair with porn actress Stormy Daniels in the lead-up to the 2016 election — as being about “hush money.” (Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records.)

Welker added a startling conclusion: “It is yet another reminder that we are covering this election against the backdrop of a deeply divided nation.”

The audacity of that sentence should shock you.

Describing Trump’s attacks on the Rule of Law as a symptom of a “deeply divided nation” — with out pointing out that he is the leading cause of the division — does more than distort reality. It qualifies as a lie — one crafted to give the impression that there’s a “division” that somehow justifies Trump’s behavior.

To be fair, Welker did attempt to emphasize the importance of the truth at one point in this clip. She circulates, and then rebuts, Trump’s lie that the charges against him in New York amount to “election interference.” But even in that instance she was spreading the lie because, as Dr. George Lakoff often notes, "negating a frame activates the frame.”

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Unfortunately, the press hasn’t learned much in nearly a decade of covering Trump as a political figure. Obviously, they need a reminder of the most basic tool of covering a serial liar and aspiring authoritarian like Trump.

It’s called the “Truth Sandwich.”

What is a Truth Sandwich?

By this point in history, everyone should start with the framework that Trump’s lies and statements aren’t the blather or harmless tripe that they may have seemed to be at first.

They are strategic, and there are four types of strategies he’s employing, as FrameLab noted back in 2018:

1) Pre-emptive framing: To frame first and get the advantage.

2) Diversion: To divert attention when news could embarrass him.

3) Deflection: Shift the blame to others.

4) Trial balloon: Test how much you can get away with.

When you accept that Trump’s words are his weapons, you must realize that simply “reporting, thus repeating” Trump “gives him power.”

There’s a clear alternative:

“Report the true frames that he is trying to pre-empt. Report the truth that he is trying to divert attention from. Put the blame where it belongs. Bust the trial balloon. Report what the strategies are trying to hide.”

Because reporters still aren’t used to prioritizing the truth while facing a firehose of lies, Lakoff clarified how to report in a way that doesn’t serve a liar.

As PBS Standards explained when advocating for this reporting methodology in April of 2020:

“Berkeley linguist George Lakoff recently came up with the strategy that he decided to call the truth sandwich. Here’s how to build one:

  • Lead with the truth.
  • In the middle of the report, briefly describe the falsehood.
  • Fact-check the misinformation, but end by repeating the truth.

Here’s a full explanation of the tactic in the FrameLab podcast:

You can’t build a truth sandwich if you won’t tell the truth

Welker’s problem isn’t just that she didn’t build a truth sandwich. She also created a pretzel of lies in by giving Trump’s lies the advantage in a wrongheaded effort to “tell both sides of the story.”

This is an unfortunate habit of the mainstream media, which has internalized the right-wing lie that our media is “liberal” and thus aims to pre-empt right-wing attacks by giving lies equal billing with truth.

Welker could have easily stated, “It is yet another reminder that we are covering this election against a backdrop of a candidate willing to use any inflammatory rhetoric or legal maneuvers to avoid legal accountability for the crimes he’s been accused of before, during, and after his presidency.”

But this, especially to a network that recently hired former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, probably seems like taking a side. And it is. It’s taking the side of truth.

Given the enormous stakes of the 2024 election, we must demand better from the people employed in the business of informing voters.

Jason Sattler (LOLGOP on Twitter and pretty much any other social media platform) is a FrameLab contributor. His writing has appeared in USA TODAY,, the New York Daily News and Alternet.

Truth Sandwich: Lead with the truth.   In the middle of the report, briefly describe the falsehood.  Fact-check the misinformation, but end by repeating the truth.
Truth Sandwich graphic via Future Hindsight

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