A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Wednesday will be the 100th day without an on-camera White House press briefing. Up until now, the longest stretch without a briefing lasted 42 days. So this is really the worst kind of record.
I’m beating this drum because the cancellation of the briefing has both symbolic and practical consequences. Practical because questions aren’t being answered. Symbolic because Trump and his aides are shutting out the press and giving permission for government agencies to do the same.
“The rhetoric does real long-term damage”
VF’s Joe Pompeo spoke with numerous W.H. reporters about Sarah Sanders’ exit and the speculation about who will succeed her. Many reporters say it just doesn’t matter. “She didn’t have the kind of power press secretaries used to have,” Pompeo wrote Tuesday.
He quoted one of his sources saying “a lot of people would like to see the briefing back,” but this matters more: “I think less public hostility overall is most important. The rhetoric does real long-term damage to our credibility.”
Here’s the newest example…
More of the same
I was going to lead this edition of the newsletter with Trump’s 2020 re-launch rally in Orlando, but it really wasn’t newsworthy. Even Sean Hannity didn’t seem to believe it when he said “you are witnessing history in the making.”
Reporters were struck by just how repetitive the kickoff rally was. CNN’sBetsy Klein quipped on Twitter, “I was promised new material.” Instead, it was a repeat of 2016. “When Hillary Clinton runs in 2020, Trump is totally ready for her,” WaPo’s Karen Tumulty remarked.
The NYT’s Michael Barbaro called it an “exceedingly dark start to re-elect kickoff. Lock her up. CNN sucks. Fake news. Hoax. Etc.” Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) tweeted that it was a “hate rally.” But the rallygoers and the viewers on Fox felt love, not hate. I think that dissonance is key to understanding the American divide we’re all living through.
Here’s what happened in Orlando
Trump began the re-launch event by touting the economy. Both Fox and CNN took the beginning of his speech live. But after five minutes it was clear that Trump didn’t have anything new to say. A “CNN sucks” chant broke out in the arena. And Trump said “by the way, that is a LOT of fake news back there.”
Fox carried the whole thing live while CNN shifted to analysis. MSNBC never dipped into the event at all.
I thought Jeffrey Toobin’s analysis on “AC360” was on point: “Remember, he WON the last election! All this, like, ‘Oh, isn’t it terrible that he’s attacking the press?’ He won by attacking the press! He won by being Donald Trump! He won by attacking immigrants! The idea that Donald Trump should listen to some speechwriter rather than his own political instincts seems crazy to me. This is who he is, this is how he won, and, like, why should he change?”
Pro-Trump commentator Rick Santorum put this way: On the campaign trail Trump “will talk about how he took on the establishment,” and “the media is part of the elite establishment.”
“There’s probably 20,000 people at this rally for this president tonight – and that is bigger than Democrats are getting so far to be sure,” Chris Cuomo said on CNN Tuesday night. “But is the size of the rally suggestive of the 60 million plus needed to win the next presidential election?”
→ Maeve Reston added on “CNN Tonight:” Nobody in the Democratic party “has that kind of rock star quality that you see with Donald Trump…”
Over on MSNBC, Chris Hayes called Tuesday’s event a “pretend relaunch.” And he addressed the day’s biggest Twitterverse controversy, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks about the detention facilities on the southern border being “concentration camps.”
Was Hayes’ show the source of this eruption? That’s my educated guess. On June 6 he interviewed Andrea Pitzer, the author of “One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps,” and she described how the current border camps fit into history. The segment hit a nerve – the book was suddenly sold out on Amazon.
Fast forward to Monday evening, when AOC said during an Instagram Live chat that the US “is running concentration camps on our southern border.”
Republican lawmakers and Fox News anchors were outraged. Fox fans, in general, were disgusted while MSNBC fans knew exactly what Ocasio-Cortez meant. Our American divide in action. Hayes brought Pitzer back on his show Tuesday night… And she said, “For 40 years before Auschwitz, we had concentration camps – things that were called concentration camps – what we’re doing now fits very cleanly inside that tradition.” She said “death camps” including Auschwitz “were ON TOP OF the existing concentration camp system,” and “that is a singular moment in history.”
But the “concentration” definition, as expressed by Hayes, is “detention of some subgroup in some camp setting where things start to go awry.”
Shanahan withdraws amid media scrutiny
On Monday, Yahoo’s Hunter Walker foreshadowed what was about to happen: With Trump’s acting secretary of defense