Based on the hysterical—yes, that’s a fair word—reaction from pundits and reporters to the President’s news conference last week, I assumed there had to be something that the transcript didn’t pick up, like he was wearing a Gooney bird on his head, or naked, or bit someone. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews called the President “manic” and compared him to Soviet spy Alger Hiss. Brian Williams described it as an “unhinged” press conference “brought to you by narcissism, thin-skinned chaos, and deeply personal grievances.” CBS This Morning’s co-host Norah O’Donnell called the 77 minute affair “astonishing…an unprecedented display of accusations and exaggerations.” Fellow co-host Gayle King chimed in: “The President’s outburst of frustration left many observers bewildered.”
A response to the session that really was unhinged came from New York Times columnist David Brooks, who clarified for me what the indignant political elite sound like when they have finally been backed into a corner, writing,
“Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued.”
From this, Brooks concluded, disgracefully,
“This does not feel like a sustainable operation. On the other hand, I have trouble seeing exactly how this administration ends. Many of the institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president no longer exist.”
Damn elections! What does Brooks think he is talking about? Trump has accomplished many things he promised to do in less than a month; it is one of the most productive first 30 days any President has had in history. He has appointed an excellent Supreme Court Justice. The stock market is booming. When has any President been judged “failing” or been “eased out” after a month, or three, or six, or ever, absent criminal activity? Never. Brooks, like Democrats and the news media, are pronouncing the Trump Presidency dead because they don’t like him, his style, or what he wants to do. That does not justify writing as if he has done anything to justify removing him, except that this is the theme of the “resistance.”
Citing cherry-picked negative polls, like, say, the ones that said Trump had no chance of winning the election, Brooks then gives his blessing to undemocratic, insubordinate and seditious conduct to undermine an elected President:
“The Civil Service has a thousand ways to ignore or sit on any presidential order. The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds. The intelligence community has only just begun to undermine this president.”
A responsible newspaper doesn’t publish this.
Then I watched the whole conference. I thought back to the first debate, which I thought Trump blew horribly. Charles Krauthammer sneered after the debate and said it was the end of Trump’s candidacy, and that everyone could see now that he was shallow, clownish, and unfit to lead. I agreed heartily.
Clearly, Charles and I missed something.
The Trump I saw in the press conference was exactly the same….better, perhaps. Journalists who see anything “unhinged” beyond how Trump, who is a direct, blunt, rhetorically juvenile communicator, campaigned were either intentionally trying to make the public see something more alarming (this is what I believe) or were deluding themselves. Michael Goodwin at The New York Post got it right, in his column, “Sorry, media — this press conference played very differently with Trump’s supporters.”
Amid feverish reports of chaos on his team and with Democrats fantasizing that Russia-gate is another Watergate, Trump took center stage to declare that reports of his demise are just more fake news. Far from dead, he was positively exuberant. His performance at a marathon press conference Thursday was a must-see-TV spectacle as he mixed serious policy talk with standup comedy and took repeated pleasure in whacking his favorite piñata, the “dishonest media.”…
Trump’s detractors immediately panned the show as madness, but they missed the method behind it and proved they still don’t understand his appeal. Facing his first crisis in the Oval Office, he was unbowed in demonstrating his bare-knuckle intention to fight back. He did it his way. Certainly no other president, and few politicians at any level in any time, would dare put on a show like that.In front of cameras, and using the assembled press corps as props, he conducted a televised revival meeting to remind his supporters that he is still the man they elected…
I’m not a Trump supporter, but I am a President of the United States supporter, and I was impressed. I thought, as I watched, “Now this is one advantage of being a narcissist.” The presumption of the news media, because nobody has ever done this at a press conference before, is that it is crazy and wrong to use one to attack the press. Indeed, that’s the conventional wisdom. “Morning Joe” Scarborough, who didn’t have the stomach for Capital Hill politics and retired to MSNBC where he could safely take cheap shots at public servants who do, said, “He is trying to delegitimize the press that has risen up over the past couple of weeks. And as I always say, don’t fight the press, the press always wins. Ask Richard Nixon. The press always wins!”
And reality star tycoons who talk about their penis size and mock veterans and the disabled always lose elections to anointed Democratic royalty. right Joe? Trump is President because he has defied conventional wisdom again and again. How often to you and your colleagues have to look like idiots before you learn something? The comparison is also misleading. Nixon was afraid of the press. Trump isn’t. Nixon radiated weakness and paranoia. Trump doesn’t I always thought Nixon should have thrown Dan Rather, who was repeatedly disrespectful to him, out of the press corps, but he didn’t have the guts. Moreover, the public trusted the news media then. Theywere partisan and biased, but there were no alternatives, the full perfidy of their bias hadn’t been exposed, and they hadn’t declined into the nakedly partisan mob of hacks journalism has become.
Why is it wrong to use a press conference to criticize journalists? Obama criticized Fox reporters, and I criticized him for it because he was punching down: backed loyally by the rest of the news media, which worked to elect him twice, Obama’s attacks (and those of staff like Valerie Jarrett )were petulant and a declaration that only fawning reporting was acceptable. Trump, however, has been subjected to a relentless onslaught of fearmongering, Nazi comparisons, ridicule, accusations of treason and insanity, personal denigration and daily pundit expositions about how somehow he needed to be removed from office. It would have been a betrayal of his duty to the office and the public if he had not taken affirmative and forceful action to fight an effort that is no less than an attempt to render him unable to lead. The strongest and most effective method, although the one presenting highest risk and courting the most criticism, is to use his office, its power and the bully pulpit to expose the news media for what it is, and delegitimize it before it delegitimatizes him.
Of course, journalism has delegitimatized itself, over many years. Ethics Alarms and before that, the Ethics Scoreboard has chronicled its near complete abandonment of professional ethics. The 2016 campaign was the nadir (so far) and Trump was the victim (after being a beneficiary), but in contrast to Nixon, the news media handed ammunition for its destruction to him.
Two weeks ago, I asked,
“Does any leader with integrity, courage and influence exist in either journalism or the political left to call out this escalating madness?”
The answer to that one is apparently no. In an earlier post (I can’t find it) I said that unless journalism took a hard and unwavering look at the depths to which it had fallen, and made immediate and rigorous efforts to rededicate itself to the principles of ethical journalism, the United States would no longer have a functioning news circulation system, just competing propaganda organs. Democracy can’t survive that. Thus for a President to confront the news media and tell it to shape up is absolutely responsible.
I would wish he could do it more clearly and articulately. I would wish he didn’t open himself up to cheap shots that undermined his mission as most journalists, even Chris Wallace and Shep Smith at Fox, circle the wagons. Here is what The Hill thought was one of the most significant statements in the presser:
“Trump falsely claimed that he had the biggest electoral victory since President Reagan. In fact, former Presidents Obama, Clinton and George H.W. Bush outpaced him.”
Stop the presses! Trump is sloppy with figures, history and his own accomplishments, and if you aren’t resigned to that by now, you’re pathetic.
Here were the exchanges that mattered:
1. Trump began his prepared assault with this…
Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system. The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.
Verdict: True. Could have been said better…but true. And bravo to the President for saying it at all.
2. Trump referenced the allegations that his campaign team had been in contact with Russian officials: “The failing New York Times wrote a big, long front-page story yesterday. And it was very much discredited, as you know. It was — it’s a joke.”
Verdict: Not quite a joke, but a hyped, insubstantial story based on anonymous sources. Writes Althouse:
“I think the people at the NYT really believe they can bring Trump down. But can they? I think Trump has a big advantage in this fight. And yet, what is the fight and what constitutes winning? Trump kept saying “the failing New York Times.” For the NYT, winning may simply be getting and maintaining a monetizable readership. Trump doesn’t have to fall. All can win. Perhaps that is Trump’s art-of-the-deal game: We can all win. He said it at the press conference: “I know how good everybody’s ratings are right now.”
3. Trump again referenced CNN, reminding the reporters that many Americans view them less favorably than even Congress:
I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred. I don’t watch it any more because it’s very good — he’s saying no. It’s okay, Jim [CNN’s Accosta] — it’s okay, Jim — you’ll have your chance. But I watch others too. You’re not the only one so don’t feel badly. But I think it should be straight. I think it should be — I think it would be frankly more interesting. I know how good everybody’s ratings are right now but I think that actually — I think that’d actually be better. People — I mean, you have a lower approval rate than Congress. I think that’s right.
Verdict: “Anger and hate” is absolutely fair. CNN has never featured a single second of hatred toward Obama, Clinton or any elected official that approaches the mouth-foaming fury of its anti-Trump contributors.
4. The cold hard truth:
The public doesn’t believe you people anymore. Now, maybe I had something to do with that. I don’t know. But they don’t believe you. If you were straight and really told it like it is, as Howard Cosell used to say, right? Of course, he had some questions also. But if you were straight, I would be your biggest booster.
Verdict: Would he really, if the news media were straight? Well, since they are ethically obligated to be straight anyway, you would think they would test that assertion.
5. Trump had specific criticism for Don Lemon’s CNN show:
Well, you look at your show that goes on at 10 o’clock in the evening. You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit. The panel is almost always exclusive anti-Trump. The good news is he doesn’t have good ratings. But the panel is almost exclusive anti-Trump. And the hatred and venom coming from his mouth; the hatred coming from other people on your network…The public gets it, you know. Look, when I go to rallies, they turn around, they start screaming at CNN. They want to throw their placards at CNN.”
6. Then Trump predicted the headlines for Friday morning:
“Tomorrow, they will say, “Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.” I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people. But — but I’m not ranting and raving. I love this.”
And, of course, that is exactly what they said!