Trump’s Flippancy With the Media is Not ‘Trump Being Trump.’ It’s a Threat to National Security
BY GREGORY QUINN
A week after he ascended to the position of president-elect, Donald Trump went to dinner. Fancy place in Midtown — the kind of white-tablecloth, silk-napkin joint that ostentatious billionaires like Trump consider casual dining but which I can only fanaticize about as I eat a grilled cheese sandwiches out of red baskets. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Unless, of course, you were a member of the press pool like Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post. Ms. Johnson was under the impression that Mr. Trump was enjoying a quiet evening in his apartment; after all, that’s what Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks had told the press pool earlier that evening. Imagine Ms. Johnson’s confusion, then, when she watched a motorcade comprising a dozen vehicles slither under cover of darkness out of Trump Tower and toward a stuffy steakhouse. Following the motorcade, Ms. Johnson and others found the soon-to-be-leader of the free world having dinner with his family.
Trump had lied to his press pool. And the fourth estate, beyond beleaguered at this point, erupted in rage.
Prominent journalist after prominent journalist tweeted their anger. Major news sources covering the event focused almost entirely on Trump’s egregious breach of protocol. Publications wrote in doomsday voices of the terrible harbinger his subterfuge represented. The brouhaha brought legitimacy to the masses from “real” issues.
There’s a reflex, I’ll admit, to roll your eyes over this uproar and blame it on Typical Media Firestorm Disease, but the inclination to chalk this up as another instance of Trump Being Trump is dangerous. This was not an innocent manifestation of Trump’s natural bravado; it was another bullet point in a rapidly growing list of Trump’s blatant disregard for a fundamental pillar of American democracy.
Not that Trump’s supporters saw it that way, of course. Infowars.com — Alex Jones’ beacon of level-headed, nuanced journalism — blasted the M.S.M., saying that the “media had a complete hissy fit meltdown because Donald Trump….wait for it….had the temerity to attend a private dinner with his own family.”
Look, I’m not going to be the one to talk sense into the Breitbart Generation; I can’t even talk sense into my father. But the “hissy fit meltdown” that got Alex Jones’ Confederate flag boxers in a bunch was totally appropriate. Let’s switch to all caps so we are really speaking the language of the Alt-Right: YOU DO NOT GET THE LUXURY OF ATTENDING PRIVATE DINNERS WITHOUT THE PRESS KNOWING ABOUT IT WHEN YOU’RE PRESIDENT. If you want that luxury, Mr. President-Elect, by all means: Resign and go to private fancy dinners to your black heart’s content. But Trump surrendered that privilege when he became President-Elect. Whether he doesn’t realize that (spoiler alert: he doesn’t) or chooses to ignore the precedent is immaterial; the country is less safe either way.
The media’s response was not hyperbole; it wasn’t Trump-era jitters that caused journalists to overact to Trump’s rookie mistake. I know that using supporting evidence to prove a point is so 2008, but here goes anyway:
The same press pool that Donald Trump lied to is the reason Americans knew their President was safe on September 11. I do not have to elaborate on the crisis that would have commenced were the public — not to mention, the military — not made immediately aware of that fact.
But hey — don’t listen to me. Here’s Juan Williams of Fox News speaking on this importance of the press pool:
I can’t believe I have to type this: It’s kind of important that the American public knows where the President is. Trump, to his supporter’s rabid delight, seemingly cares as little about that as he does about decorum and decency.
And it’s not as if I can chalk this up to a rookie mistake. It’s too much of a pattern. I’m reminded of what Hillary Clinton said (excuse me, I need to go cry on the toilet for 20 minutes) in reference to Trump’s salacious “locker room talk” during the second debate: Look, if this were just about one video, maybe what he’s saying tonight would be understandable, but everyone can draw their own conclusions at this point about whether or not the man in the video or the man on the stage respects women.
Clinton was arguing that the extended pattern of Trump’s behavior toward women makes it impossible to give any credence to his glib response to the Access Hollywood video. I’m inclined to feel the same way here. Maybe I would be willing to forgive Trump lying to the press pool if he didn’t deny the media access to his meetings with foreign leaders in Mexico, Argentina and Japan; perhaps I could chalk his clandestine dinner date up to understandable inexperience if he didn’t campaign on a promise to “open up” libel laws (whatever the hell that means); and I suppose there’s an off chance I could simply ignore the deceit if Trump didn’t lie to the media over and over and over with impunity and without consequence.
The Washington Post published a story recently that has making my social media rounds: Trump has already defeated the news media. And it’s unclear what we can do about it. It was an eloquent, thousand-word throwing up of hands. The post is faced with the following reality: Let Trump’s abject and obvious lies go unchecked, or call out Trump — only to have it immediately invalidated by empowered Trump supporters calling it the rantings of a biased and crooked media. They have no idea how to handle the media Catch-22 Trump has created. Neither do I. Nor anyone, really. But how fast we figure out how may have incredible consequences for our country.
Maybe we’re making strides. Maybe just the press acknowledging its own failures in covering Trump is a positive first step. Hell — Fox News called out Trump for the press pool lie! That’s a good sign! Let’s see how Fox News readers reacted to the article. Here’s the top comment on Juan Williams story, referenced earlier: