The Media Have a Bad Case of the TrumpsThe "crying wolf too many times" specification has long been exceeded. It's ALL crying wolf, constantly, for the MSM these days. They don't bother reporting; they falsify. Despicable.
And so I did what I, as a proud consumer of the mainstream liberal press, am not supposed to do. I second-guessed the mainstream liberal press. I watched the video of the cabinet meeting, all twenty-damn-five minutes of it, and I discovered that every story I had read or heard or seen that morning about the cabinet meeting was, as a whole, wrong or misleading, and in many particulars, just wrong.
For instance: Nobody showed signs of reading from a script. Priebus’s comment was made explicitly on behalf of the “senior staff,” not the whole cabinet, as CNN implied. The Times to the contrary, no one praised Trump’s “integrity.” Neither Priebus’s sycophancy nor Pence’s set the tone of the meeting. General Mattis did not “stand alone”; the sentiment he expressed was expressed by most of his colleagues. And so on and so on and so on.
Here’s what did happen. The meeting Monday was the first time that Donald Trump’s entire cabinet had been in one room, owing to delays in a couple of confirmations. (Democrats’ fault, said Trump.) The president gave an opening statement exaggerating his administration’s accomplishments. He mentioned initiatives begun by several of the cabinet members. Then, to “celebrate this group,” as Attorney General Jeff Sessions put it, Trump suggested they all introduce themselves, the way you do at a business conference or a group therapy session (so I hear).
“We’ll start with Mike,” Trump said, “and just go around and [give] your name and position, and then we’ll ask these folks [the press pool] to go back and have a nice day, and we’re going to discuss our various reports,” which is one of the nicest—meaning, most un‑Trumpian—ways he could have told the press to scram.
There was no hint from Trump that the members should praise him. The most plausible explanation for all the self-introductions was that Trump, knowing the meeting was going out live on cable TV, wanted the public to get a load of the greatest cabinet in the history of the entire solar system—and a lot of other solar systems too, some people are saying.
Pence, who seems most himself when servile, started the praise unprompted. But he didn’t “set the tone,” as the news reports said—his obsequiousness didn’t really catch on at all. In fact, by my count, 11 of the 23 members (counting Pence) didn’t mention Trump at all. The comment from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was typical: “It’s a privilege to serve, to serve the students of this country, and to work to ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to get a great education, and therefore a great future.”
In a large majority of cases, when cabinet members did mention Trump, the “adulation” was all in the fevered imaginations of reporters. Tillerson: “Thank you for the honor to serve the country. It’s a great privilege you’ve given me.” (Reporter scribbles in her notebook: Suck-up!) Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, a financial adviser worth $2.5 billion: “Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity to help fix the trade deficit and ... have a chance to help you live up to your campaign promises.” (Billionaire kiss-ass.) Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats: “It’s a joy to be working with the people that I have inherited, and we are going to continue to provide you with the very best intelligence we can, so you can formulate policies to deal with these issues.” (Boot-licking toady!)
“Their leader sat smiling, nodding his approval,” wrote the Times, but he didn’t. The footage was ill-lit, but Trump’s expression seemed to be the usual jut-jawed, slightly simian expression we’re all trying to get used to. Trump did say “thank you” a lot, as he should have, considering that nearly all of the secretaries said it was an “honor to serve”—not him, but the country, or some public or government constituency. (That’s where the NPR mashup came from, and it’s why it was thoroughly misleading. When a cabinet member says she isn’t honored to serve the public, NPR will have a genuine story.) If even a bare majority of the cabinet secretaries had adopted the tone of Priebus and Pence and Mnuchin, the cabinet meeting would indeed have resembled the Maoist reeducation session the press made it out to be. But they didn’t.
This small episode, this miniature, wholly unnecessary bit of dissembling or incompetence by the press, is a nice example of what Nicole Hemmer, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, has called “Trump Exceptionalism.” It is a disease that strikes journalists above all. In the eyes of the bright young things who work in the White House press corps, with their faulty educations and unearned world-weariness, everything Trump does must be nefarious, and if not nefarious, at least vulgar and unprecedented. It just has to be. So it is. Even when it’s not.
Trump, all by himself, is menacing enough. The press doesn’t help when it sets off undue alarms. After all, wrote Hemmer in Politico, “there’s a cost to getting this wrong. Cry wolf too many times, and readers are less likely to listen when the real dangers appear.”