Yesterday saw the completion of the Calabrese family’s annual trek to Lakeland, Florida for spring training. After a quick visit to Tigertown, I was settling in at the hotel when Rob sent me a message that I simply had to do myself the favor of watching the just-completed Trump press conference.
Say what, Rob? I just got to Lakeland and I’m going to sit here and watch this hour-and-16-minute barnburner? Why would I do that?
But I did, and I saw exactly why he told me I should. It was truly extraordinary.
Now what you heard about it was probably that Trump was “ranting against the media” or something like that, which is why you have to watch it. Trump is continuing to own the media, and they are continuing to have no idea what’s happening to them.
The presser essentially breaks down into two parts. First, Trump spends about 35 minutes updating the nation - essentially talking over the media’s heads - about the actual work of governance he’s been doing. He talked about tax reform. He talked about replacing ObamaCare. He talked about pipeline construction. He talked about border security. He talked about counterterrorism. He talked about rolling back regulations. He talked about changes in trade policy. He talked about the status of his cabinet nominees.
These are all things people need and want to know about. These are the things Trump was elected to do. These are the things that actually matter to the public. They are also things you probably didn’t even know about unless you watched the presser, because the media don’t pay much attention to any of them. Oh sure, you can find some stories if you look hard enough. But if you scan the headlines, you don’t see these stories at all. So before Trump took a single question, much to the media’s irritation, he gave detailed updates on all of this.
Then came the part that got attention, the part the media covered . . . because it was all about them.
First of all, given the chance to ask Trump questions about the governing substance he had just spent 35 minutes talking about, they ignored all that completely. For what? You guessed it: Russia!
I don’t know how many different ways you can ask a guy if his campaign coordinated with the Russian government, but these people found every conceivable way to ask that question again, and again, and again . . .
Now, Trump did cause himself a few problems, notably when he claimed to have won the largest electoral vote majority since Ronald Reagan. Anyone who pays attention to history, which he apparently does not, knows that isn’t true. It also doesn’t matter much, but he said it and it was wrong, and it gave the media an excuse to hyperventilate about the false statement rather than cover substance.
But the media waited until an item at the very end to really outdo themselves. It came when reporter April Ryan asked one of the few substantive questions of the presser, which concerned Trump’s plans to address problems in the inner city. It was a thoughtful and respectful exchange, and it included a question from Ryan, who is black, about whether Trump would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the matter. Trump replied that he actually had hoped in recent days to have a meeting with CBC member Elijah Cummings, only to have Cummings back out of the meeting for reasons Trump assumes are political.
So, having established that, Trump asked her largely tongue-in-cheek: “I’ll tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?”
That seemed innocuous enough to anyone not looking for an excuse to call Trump a racist. But this is the media we’re dealing with, so we got a rash of stories like this one from the Washington Post:
Over the course of the lengthy and bizarre news conference that President Trump held Thursday, few moments crystallized the unusual nature of his presidency as effectively as an exchange he had at the end with April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks.
Ryan asked Trump if he would include the CBC in discussions about his agenda for addressing urban policy. The CBC, for those unaware, is the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of African American legislators that is often a leading voice on the Hill for issues dealing with the black community. Trump appeared briefly to be unaware of what the initials stood for, and so Ryan asked more pointedly.
. . .
Ryan pointed out to the president that she is a journalist and that, while she does know members of the CBC, that’s not her role. “I’m sure some of them are watching right now,” she added.
Trump went on to say that he had been trying to set up a meeting with Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and a CBC member. He then claimed that Cummings had balked at following through, but the CBC tweeted its side of the story.
This wasn’t the first dust-up between Ryan and the White House.
On Monday, Ryan accused Trump aide Omarosa Manigault of having physically intimidated her near the Oval Office and that Manigault claimed the administration was maintaining “dossiers” of information on members of the media. (White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied that this was the case in his daily briefing on Wednesday.)
During the campaign, Manigault accused Ryan of being on the payroll of Hillary Clinton, thanks to a misinterpretation of an email released by WikiLeaks. This history is probably why Trump also told Ryan that her question was “very professional, very good.”
However, the weirdness of the Trump-Ryan exchange on Thursday extends beyond the reporter’s relationship with the administration. Trump’s suggestion that a black reporter is somehow allied with or working on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus is fraught for obvious reasons, but also came shortly after Trump insisted, without being prompted, that he was not racist.
And it wasn’t just the Post, not by long shot. Check Facebook trending to see how the liberal media jumped all over this, all of them having the exact same take on it: Trump was a racist for assuming a black reporter would be friends with the CBC. He was also treating her like his secretary or something by asking her to set up the meeting.
Now first, let’s nuke that: It was Ryan who specifically brought up the prospect of Trump meeting with the CBC. It was Ryan who ackowledged that yes, she does know many of them personally. And anyone who uses their brain understands that Trump was not literally asking Ryan to set up the meeting, but was simply expressing that politics are making it difficult to get something set up.
It sort of reminds me of the time many years ago when a reporter asked then-Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski if he’d be interested in trading a player who had a very lucrative contract, thus making such a deal very difficult to pull off. Dombrowski replied: “You try to trade him.”
Did the reporter reply in a fit of self-seriousness, “That’s not my role . . . I’m a journalist”? Of course not. Because he understood the statement was rhetorical. Give the political press zero points for ability to think.
But there’s a larger point to be made here about what the media are doing with this today. Trump pointed out during the presser that their own trust numbers are in the tank, and that they are doing it to themselves by refusing to be straight in the coverage of serious news. Instead, they look for absurdities like this one and twist them beyond all recognition for the purpose of damaging the president. If they would just get things right, Trump said, he would have no problem with them - even if their coverage of him was negative. As long as it was true.
And in the presser, he gave them a variety of substantive subjects to cover. What did they choose to focus on? This nonsense. In other words, they went ahead and did the very thing he continually warned them is killing their credibility. The political class and ideological activists may think this is good coverage, but normal people want to hear about how the administration is actually governing.
Watch the presser for yourself. It will take a long time to watch the whole thing, but if you can, please do it. And decide for yourself if Trump’s approach is “bizarre” or if he’s simply trying to update the nation about what he’s doing, despite the press’s complete lack of interest in talking about any of it.
Here’s the whole thing:
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