Ali: Aaron Rodgers, Donald Trump and the normalization of lying in public

New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, left, and former President Trump, right
Left, New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. Right, former President Donald Trump speaks to the media at a Washington hotel Tuesday after attending a hearing before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals at the federal courthouse in Washington.
(Brad Penner / Associated Press Images for Panini; Susan Walsh / AP)

The battle for accountability in a culture of impunity — one in which reality increasingly plays second fiddle to conspiracy theories and disinformation — heated up Tuesday when a football star doubled down on his baseless claims about a late-night host and a federal appeals court judge scrutinized a former president’s claim of immunity from prosecution for his role in a violent insurrection.

It’s not a stretch to mention in the same breath New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has asserted without evidence that Jimmy Kimmel was associated with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and Donald Trump, who pushed the unfounded narrative that he is immune from criminal charges related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election, a campaign that was itself based on lies. After all, neither of these men have facts on their side. They simply have public platforms, colorful stories and a victim complex — all key ingredients in the art of ignoring the facts to amass a following.

If the first couple weeks of 2024 were turned into a period drama, it’d be called “Lies and Culpability” and it’d be a Shakespearean tragedy, not a Jane Austen romance. The country’s relationship with the truth, or even reasonable doubt, is so eroded that anything is now plausible: The Jan. 6 Capitol attack was a “fedsurrection,” an inside job by the FBI. The folksy site Etsy is really a hub for child pornography, evidenced by photos of — wait for it — pizza. Vice President Kamala Harris breathes through gills (I did not make this up).


Host Jimmy Kimmel brings his public feud with NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the late-night stage, slamming the ‘too arrogant’ football star.

Jan. 9, 2024

Such ludicrous tall tales are easy to laugh at, and dismiss. Less entertaining is a poll released last week showing that a third of the country believes President Biden’s election was illegitimate despite ample evidence to the contrary. Not to mention dangerous fictions spread daily about Jews, Muslims, Asians, transgender people and other groups, provoking increased hate and violence against them as a result.

Which is why the fight for accountability now raging in the courts, and the court of public opinion, is so vital and at times worrying — because it’s unclear who is winning from week to week, hour to hour.

Rodgers is an excellent example of the backslide. In a Jan. 2 appearance on ESPN’s “The Pat McAfee Show,” the conspiracy-minded athlete steered the conversation into a perennial favorite of the QAnon crowd, pedophilia and Epstein. Rodgers said that many high-profile folks were nervous about the unsealing of Epstein’s client list.

“There’s a lot of people, including Jimmy Kimmel, really hoping that doesn’t come out.” His reckless comments drew a swift response from Kimmel on social media, and on Monday, Kimmel dedicated the opening monologue of his late-night show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” to rebutting Rodgers.

Lawyers for former President Trump have asked a judge to dismiss the Washington, D.C., federal election subversion case against him.

Oct. 5, 2023

“I don’t know Jeffrey Epstein. I’ve never met Jeffrey Epstein,” Kimmel said. “I’m not on a list. I was not on a plane or an island or anything ever, and I suggested that if Aaron wanted to make false and very damaging statements like that, we should do it in court so he can share his proof with, like, a judge.”

But Rodgers appeared unfazed Tuesday on “The Pat McAfee Show” when he doubled down on the Epstein connection in his response to Kimmel’s monologue. “I’m not stupid enough … to accuse you of that with absolutely zero evidence, concrete evidence,” Rodgers said. Yet he produced no proof; his evidence, it appears, is somewhere in the same make-believe vault as Trump’s stolen votes.


The quarterback said he would like to put the issue “to bed, to move forward,” then blamed the media for trying to “cancel” him … the very same media he’s using to discredit Kimmel.

Times television critic Lorraine Ali is covering the Jan. 6 committee hearings. Catch up on the big moments you missed with her recaps.

July 22, 2022

Hours earlier, Trump made a personal appearance in court with his legal team, who sought to convince a panel of judges that former presidents should not be prosecuted for actions taken in office.

Judge Florence Pan was skeptical of the argument. “You’re saying a president could sell pardons, could sell military secrets, could tell SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival?” she asked. Trump lawyer John Sauer answered that a former president could be charged only if first impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted in the Senate. After the hearing, Trump warned of “bedlam” should the trial proceed.

The threat of violence was underpinned by a confidence that he’ll win this battle, too. And maybe he will since accountability is such a unicorn in politics and the tribalism of a divided country. It’s not just Trump and his allies, like Rep. Elise Stefanik, who have cultivated an impressive impermeability to the facts (they recently referred to the federal criminal defendants incarcerated in connection with the Jan. 6 attack as “hostages” of the judicial system). It’s a large swath of our fellow Americans.

But accountability is still possible within the law: Dominion Voting Systems won nearly $787 million in a settlement with Fox News Channel and the Fox Corp. in a defamation lawsuit alleging that Fox broadcast false information that Dominion’s voting machines were rigged to tip the election in Biden’s favor. And three years after the Capitol attack, hundreds have been convicted.

Trump’s legal team and his allies have not had the same success in court they have had on social media. The pitched battle to fight off politically engineered untruths and wild conspiracies is frightening, but these legal victories mean that those who care about truth and accountability need to keep up the fight.