1. I watched the introductions and about half of Trump’s opening remarks, and had to bail. I just had to. Not that Trump’s manner and speaking style were any worse than before; it’s just that the thought that young people will see this as acceptable public presentation and speaking clarity was too horrible to bear. Even with the verbalization-challenged Bushes, the level of basic language skills and vocabulary wasn’t nearly this bad.
I had to watch an old video of JFK wittily fencing with reporters to get the thought out of my head:
2. Thus this discussion is based on the transcript. I had to search a bit to find an online transcript that wasn’t constantly interrupted by editorial comments and “fact-checks.” These contained a lot of nit-picking and suggestions of deception (and some useful clarifications). It seems to me that the “fact-checks” of Trump feel adversarial, while the recent fact-check of President Obama’s final speech were consistently friendly, and voluntarily refused to take issue with genuinely misleading statements. For example, Obama said, “If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.” NPR’s annotation:
“Via The New Republic: “From 2000 to 2010, a decade during which the white population as a whole grew by just 1.2 percent, the number of white children in the United States declined by 4.3 million. Meanwhile the child populations of Hispanics, Asians, and people of two or more races were increasing.”
But that’s not the fact to check. Who says that anyone is “unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us“? That’s a straw man, and should have been called out (I threw a pillow at the TV screen) as one. Clear-thinking citizens are unwilling to invest in the children of illegal immigrants because they shouldn’t be here, and the more we “invest” in them, the more encouragement we give to foreign citizens to break our laws.
But NPR likes illegal immigration, so this wouldn’t occur to them, I guess.
3. I think it’s fair to say that no previous POTUS or PEOTUS press conference began with a frontal assault on the press for publishing fake news. That’s how this one began, with Sean Spicer attacking the already infamous Buzzfeed story. He also attacked CNN for reporting on Buzzfeed’s report. Here was NPR’s annotation, in part:
“BuzzFeed and CNN both reported on Tuesday about documents alleging that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump,” as CNN reported, though the two news organizations presented the information in vastly different ways. CNN mostly focused on who had seen the documents and when, citing unnamed sources and U.S. officials in different places. However, CNN said that while it had reviewed the “35-page compilation of the memos” alleging that link, it was “not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations.”
NPR’s distinction doesn’t excuse CNN. The news media does this kind of thing all the time, it’s true: it reports the fact that an irresponsible news source has reported a rumor, unsourced claim, ora lie, and thus further circulates an account that never should have been published in the first place. Later, Trump was asked about his tweet asking if we were now living in Nazi Germany. (It’s cute to see my Facebook friends fuming about that tweet, when they have been absurdly calling Trump a Nazi for months. Has anyone contacted Harry Belafonte for his comments?) Trump’s response:
“I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public. As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequences. They already are.”
Crude, but fair. It would be been nice if Trump had the wit and historical perspective to remind the assembled, and perhaps teach his audience, what the Big Lie technique championed by Josef Goebbels was and how the Buzzfeed-CNN handoff would have pleased him. I’ve got to learned to lower my expectations. Nevertheless, the Nazi reference in that context was well-earned. It is disgraceful that the dossier was leaked by U.S. intelligence personnel. “Failing pile of garbage” is not Presidential rhetoric (sigh) but the sentiment is correct. CNN capped a week of neon-bright biased and inaccurate reporting across the news spectrum by giving this slimy story greater visibility, thus advancing a Big Lie. CNN deserved its comeuppance, which was soon to come.
4. The comeuppance arrived when Trump refused to take a question from CNN reporter Jim Accosta, and had this exchange:
Mr. President-elect, since you are attacking our news organization…
Can you give us a chance?
Your organization is terrible.
You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir? Sir, can you…
Quiet, quiet. [ Points to another reporter ]
Mr. President-elect, can you say…
She’s asking a question, don’t be rude. Don’t be rude.
Can you give us a question since you’re attacking us? Can you give us a question?
Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question.
Can you state…
You are fake news. Go ahead (to another reporter.)
5. Not surprisingly, the news media and its supporters are apoplectic. It is certainly a break with tradition, as all Presidents previously declined to limit questions from reporters or organizations that they may have felt had abused their position. I believe that in the past some Presidents should have punished unethical reporters. Dan Rather was unprofessional and rude to Richard Nixon; Nixon should have told CBS that either Rather needed to behave professionally, or CBS better send another corespondent. Sam Donaldson was unprofessional in his questions to President Reagan; Helen Thomas was embarrassingly so with President Bush. The news media itself no longer deserves the unlimited respect and deference Presidents and the public previously accorded it. The 2016 campaign showed many reporters to be secretly collaborating with the Clinton camp. The New York Times announced in an editorial that it intended to use its reporting to defeat Donald Trump, and since his election, astoundingly, the bias and incompetence has gotten worse, and not only by the Times.
The President should support the news media when it does its job, which is honest, fair journalism. I didn’t always feel this way, but I didn’t always believe that the decline of the integrity and competence of journalism posed an existential threat to our democracy, When the news media does not do its job, refuses to do its job, and worse still, is arrogant about the fact that it isn’t doing its job, there should be consequences.
6. In one of the recent Ethics Alarms posts documenting the unethical journalism we have been slimed with during the 2016 Post Election Train Wreck, it was noted that one of the few substantive arguments made for voting for Donald Trump was that his election would result in the news media being appropriately critical of a President again, after eight years of fearful toadying and passive reporting on the Obama Administration. I also noted that the news media was showing that it is so biased and untrustworthy that even this was a false hope. Last night, Prof. Reynolds, on his blog Instapundit, wrote…
I’m rethinking my position that a good argument for having Trump as President is that if he gets out of line, the press and the Deep State will go after him and bring him under control. There are two reasons for that. First, the press and the Deep State are already going after him, before he’s even had a chance to get out of line. And second, I mean, holy crap, could they be any sorrier at doing so? I mean, “Peegate?” Really? What the hell?
This is good news for Trump, sort of, but overall it’s really bad news, since it means that both journalism and the intelligence community are both more politicized, and less competent, than even I thought. Sweet Jesus, these people are terrible.
7. The news conference was supposed to be about the measures Trump would take to address his unprecedented conflicts of interest issues. On that, Trump said he will not divest himself of his business holdings, and will turn over the operations and control of those holdings to a trust controlled by his adult sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. Sheri A. Dillon, a big firm lawyer, took the podium to describe how this would occur, explaining that Trump “wants there to be no doubt in the minds of the American public that he is completely isolating himself from his business interests,” and that Trump’s sons will make all decisions for the company without any involvement from President Dad. She said Trump will resign from all positions he holds with the Trump Organization, as will Ivanka. Dillon also said that the Trump Organization would make no new foreign deals during the Trump term, and that any new domestic deals would be subject to strict restrictions.
“He will only know of a deal if he reads about it in the paper or sees it on TV,” she said, adding that an ethics adviser would be appointed to the management team of the Trump Organization. The lawyer’s, which is to say Trump’s, interpretation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits government officials from taking payments or gifts from a foreign government. “No one would have thought when the Constitution was written, that paying your hotel bill was an emolument,” she said. Trump, we learned, pledgesto donate to the United States all profits made by his hotels from business from foreign governments.
“President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” she said.
This is not enough to ensure that President Trump’s decisions will not be affected by their effects on his children’s welfare or “the company he built,” of course. There is no way to ensure that now. There are no conflicts laws or restrictions on the President because the Founders assumed that no one would be come President who was not motivated by duty to country rather than personal enrichment. Trump’s foes refuse to accord him that presumption of honor and trustworthiness that every other President has received, and not without some justification.Nonetheless, Trump’s conflicts are unprecedented, and his choice should have been to “destroy the company he built” or not be permitted to run. The Republican Party could have insisted on that choice, and should have. The Democrats and the news media also should have made the argument, relentlessly throughout the campaign, that Trump’s conflicts disqualified him. To their eternal regret, they didn’t think it was necessary (Since Hillary was a lock), so they neglected the issue. (They also neglected it because it would draw more attention to Clinton’s lucrative conflicts through the Clinton Foundation.)
8. It’s too late now. This issue will give Trump opponents reason to question the legitimacy of dozens, hundreds of Administration policies over the next four years. Dillon’s dismissal of the Emoluments Clause, however, is probably correct. That was just the latest of progressive/Democratic Hail Mary passes to try to derail the trump Presidency…not as far-fetched as some, but still futile.