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 Patrick Shanahan’s confirmation “on hold, press reports have questioned his relationship with the president, and the Pentagon has been fielding press queries about his personal life, including a messy divorce that involved an accusation of domestic violence from his ex-wife, who was arrested as part of the dispute.”
Then came USA Today’s story on Tuesday morning: “FBI examining 2010 domestic fight involving acting defense secretary Shanahan; accounts differ on aggressor.”
And then WaPo dropped this story, literally one minute before Trump tweeted: “As Trump’s defense pick withdraws, he addresses violent domestic incidents.”
Defense One exec editor Kevin Baron tweeted: “Shanahan invited Washington Post reporters into his apartment days before withdrawing to discuss his personal history on the record. After months of ducking cameras and public accountability on matters of war and national security.”
April Ryan’s question
With Netflix’s “When They See Us” still reverberating, April Ryan asked Trump if he would apologize for his actions surrounding the Central Park Five case during a gaggle on Tuesday afternoon. Trump instead asked why the topic was relevant. “Why do you bring that question up now? It’s an interesting time to bring it up,” he said, seemingly unaware of the Netflix miniseries.
He went on to say, “You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt.” As CNN’s story noted, “the five teenagers who were accused of raping a jogger were pressured into giving false confessions. They were later exonerated when DNA evidence linked another person to the crime…”
Why Trump on Telemundo is significant
Trump is calling into Hannity’s show on Wednesday. PLUS: NBC and Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart has landed an interview with Trump. Telemundo is calling it “Trump’s first sit-down interview with a Spanish-language TV network during his presidency.” It will air Thursday night…
→ David Fahrenthold tweeted: “I’ll be fascinated to see if they ask about @realDonaldTrump’s employment of undocumented workers…”
FOR THE RECORD
– Aaron Gell, a former editor of the New York Observer, is out with a new essay about what it was like to work with Jared Kushner… (Medium)
– “Katharine Gorka, a political appointee at DHS who has stirred controversy for her views on terrorism and her role in the department’s efforts to combat violent extremism in the US, is expected to be the new press secretary at Customs and Border Protection,” Geneva Sands reports. Gorka’s husband Sebastian Gorka attacks the media on a daily basis… (CNN)
– “A former Republican operative notorious for his connections to white nationalists has established himself as an opinion contributor for several national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, while writing under a thinly veiled pen name… ” (BuzzFeed News)
18 questions for 21 candidates
On Wednesday the NYT is coming out with a video series featuring the 2020 Dems. Joe Biden declined the paper’s invitation to participate, but the rest of the field did…
Here’s the idea: “We asked 2020 Democrats the same set of 18 questions.” The answers will be up on NYTimes.com in the morning…
Colbert’s joke about Fox
On Tuesday’s “Late Show,” Stephen Colbert played a clip of Bret Baier reporting on Fox’s latest poll showing Biden leading Trump. “Ouch, Fox News! You pledged to be there for him, for better or worse,” Colbert said, “You keep this up, he’s going to leave you for a younger network!”