President Trump is getting a distorted view of the country from what he sees on the conservative talk show “Fox & Friends.”
Don’t believe me? Look at what happened on Saturday. A segment on Fox was followed one hour later by a presidential tweetstorm against Congressman Elijah Cummings and his district in Maryland.
Trump’s hateful tweets fit right into a decades-long pattern of racist and incendiary rhetoric. He sounded like a caller to a radio show, not a president. Now there’s a raging debate about what he said and what he meant.
He is defending himself by saying “there is nothing racist in stating plainly what most people already know, that Elijah Cummings has done a terrible job for the people of his district, and of Baltimore itself. Dems always play the race card when they are unable to win with facts. Shame!”
But his original posts said something else. His posts said Cummings’ entire district of 700,000+ people is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” He said “no human being would want to live there.”
So it’s critical to examine where Trump heard this information.
There is no evidence that he received a detailed briefing about Cummings’ district. There is no indication that he conducted his own research.
His own rich history of tweeting about Fox suggests that he was set off by a segment on the 6 am hour of “Fox & Friends Weekend.”
First the talk show played a recent video clip of Cummings questioning acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan about conditions at the border. Then co-host Jedediah Bila brought in a guest named Kimberly Klacik, who went to impoverished parts of West Baltimore and talked with residents and recorded videos of trashed lots and ruined rowhomes.
For Fox, Klacik provided a ready-made segment – she even supplied her own videos and photos.
The segment portrayed Cummings as a hypocrite, more concerned about people illegally crossing the border into the United States than people in his own state.
“There is a crisis at the border, but there’s also a crisis in Baltimore,” Klacik said. “And I don’t think many people realized this, but Congressman Cummings represents the most dangerous district in America.”
Speaking about her visit, she said, “There’s abandoned rowhomes filled with trash, homeless addicts, empty needles that they have used and it’s really right next door. It’s attracting rodents, cockroaches, you name it.”
Yes, there are struggling, severely impoverished neighborhoods in Baltimore. That’s been true for decades. But the takeaway from the segment was that Cummings’ entire district was a disaster zone. And that he should shut up about the border and fix what’s in his own backyard.
That may be a tempting talking point, even though it ignores decades of structural inequities and wrongly places the blame on a local lawmaker.
It also ignores the truth about the heavily gerrymandered district, which has a mix of urban, suburban and rural areas. Some parts are well-off, other neighborhoods are poor and deeply troubled, others are in between.
But Trump digested what he heard on Fox and ran with it, tweeting about Cummings and Baltimore an hour later, saying “Cumming District” (he misspelled Cummings) is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”
Presumably he only meant the place he saw on TV – but this was a shocking thing for a president to say.
Klacik was evidently thrilled about the attention. She tweeted, “The President saw my work. This just made my day.”
She wrote on Twitter that she had more videos to share and “more work to do.” She added, “I hope Fox News considers joining me on this journey.”
Klacik’s message was clear: People like Cummings should, as she tweeted, “do something about Baltimore before worrying about those unlawfully in our country.”
On the air, Fox called Klacik a Republican strategist. But there is no evidence that she’s ever been employed by a campaign. She once wrote on a biography webpage about wanting to be a broadcast journalist. The biography said she worked in the hospitality industry and set up a nonprofit. She also wrote right-wing blog posts for a site called Politichicks Nation.
In 2018 she started appearing on Fox and other TV outlets, frequently identified as a Republican strategist. She also ran for a local GOP position in Baltimore County and won.
Her LinkedIn profile says she’s a political commentator “not contracted or employed by any network,” which means she is not paid by Fox.
I emailed Kracik a list of questions about her past appearances on Fox; the portrayal of her as a “Republican strategist” and her current titles. I asked “do you define what you’re currently doing as advocacy journalism, commentary, something else?”
She did not answer with any specifics. But she said “you can call me, ‘The woman that cared about Baltimore.’”
Thanks to Klacik’s video, her appearance on Fox and the president’s tweets, Trump versus Cummings is now a national news story. But it needs to be placed in the proper context.
The Baltimore Sun did that in a photo caption on its front page on Sunday. It noted that Cummings “is a central figure in the almost daily battle with President Donald Trump over access to documents and officials’ testimony.”
So Cummings is challenging the administration’s treatment of migrants at the border. Trump is objecting; a conservative commentator is providing anti-Cummings talking points; and Fox is giving her a platform. The result: the president comes away with a warped view of life in Maryland’s seventh congressional district.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Klacik lost a race for a local GOP position in Baltimore County. After this story was published Klacik tweeted an image of results indicating she had won.