Carl Bernstein walks the line: Remind us to tell you about the time we opened for Johnny Cash.
First, though, let's take a look at the things Carl Bernstein has said in the last four nights. We'd say that he, like Nicholas Kristof, has perhaps been walking a line.
Mental illness is a terrible thing. It robs people of their ability to do good things in the world.
Is it possible that our new president is some species of mentally ill? Monday night, speaking with Anderson Cooper, Bernstein started by offering this:
BERNSTEIN (1/23/17): We are having too many bizarre moments with this new president, as Phil Mattingly called it...Something very disturbing is going on here. I talked about the tweets being an MRI of his psyche, these remarks are likewise are an MRI of his psyche and it's not a very pretty place.To us, that almost starts to sound like psychiatric language. For the record, these are the remarks by CNN's Phil Mattingly to which Bernstein alluded. Mattingly was describing Trump's appearance that night before congressional leaders:
MATTINGLY (1/23/17): Well, Anderson, in kind of what's being described to me at least by one source as a bizarre and awkward turn during that private meeting with congressional leadership, both Republicans and Democrats, the president recounted the idea, one that he has pushed several times in the past that between 3 and 5 million illegal votes were cast against him during the election. Now, this is something that is just not true, flatly not true. No evidence has been presented by Trump or his top associates to back up this claim that he'd made in the past on Twitter. And it's something we haven't actually heard a lot about from the president since those initial claims on Twitter. But it was brought up in a private meeting.Mattingly's account of "bizarre" behavior came from one unnamed source. The description isn't overtly psychiatric.
Now, the context of this is, the president was going through kind of a ten-minute recount of how he won the election, how the campaign all went and the congressional leaders were kind of listening intently. And then this came up. And, as I noted, as one source said it was a bizarre moment and it was a moment that the leaders kind of awkwardly just tried to move past.
But when Bernstein returned to CNN Wednesday night, so did his semi-psychiatric allusions. On this occasion, he spoke with Don Lemon:
BERNSTEIN (1/25/17): Look, I think there is a subtext here that it is unlike anything that I have seen in fifty years of being a reporter. And that is that I'm hearing from Republicans, and other reporters are as well, that there is open discussion by members of the president of the United States' own party about his emotional maturity, stability. People are saying his psyche is driving the news cycle.On this evening, Bernstein was discussing Trump's appearance before Republican leaders at their Philadelphia retreat. Later, Bernstein sounded semi-psychiatric again:
We are in uncharted territory here. And we ought to talk to some of our colleagues about what they are hearing. I think it's, you know, it is a really fruitful area because I've never heard talking about a president the way this subtext is now talking—is now a talking point.
BERNSTEIN: This is why Republicans, in going to Philadelphia today, are talking to each other about his emotional maturity, stability. Look. We have a situation here where today the president of the United States told David Muir our country is falling apart. This is extraordinary. This is a broad brush, a tar brush, the likes of which I have never heard of."Delusional" isn't necessarily a psychiatric term. "Lying" is a term applied to moral agents.
I'm going to quote a senior Republican I talked with this evening. "It's delusional." That was his word. And that is what the conversation is about among supporters of this president. He is saying things that they regard as delusional, lies and they are perplexed. And they are bothered....There is something going on here. It's about the personality and ways of Donald Trump. Maybe we will get used to them, maybe we won't. But right now there are a lot of people who are disjointed by what he is doing and they tend to be in his own party.
We have a divided country. But he may be pushing away people who he thinks support him if he keeps lying and going to delusional ideas.
Still, we thought Bernstein might be walking a line this night. Last night, again appearing with Lemon, he seemed to go there again.
On this occasion, Lemon said his panel would discuss Trump's "escalating media war." Bernsetin introduced a new word—"pathology:"
BERNSTEIN (1/26/17): Look, we have two things going on at once here. We have a kind of pathology of lying, which is what we're here to discuss I believe. And we also have an enormous amount of presidential activity in the area of policy. Some of it perhaps wise, some perhaps very unwise. And we need to parse through both."Pathology" almost starts sounding like a psychiatric term here. Late in the hour, Bernstein returned to an earlier suggestion:
BERNSTEIN: It's outrageous, but really the truth is "the opposition party" right now. The truth is the opponent of what Donald Trump is doing, because he and his surrogates are lying in a way that those of us who are reporters with a lot of experience, I've been around fifty years, I've never seen a president of the United States or his people lie with this kind of intensity and regularity in the first days of the presidency rather than focus on the policy.
Look what—Frank Bruni was just talking about this extraordinary thing of going to the park service to lean on the park service. This is about pathology, not policy.
BERNSTEIN: Let me just one thing very quickly about Steve Bannon, and that is that I would speculate here, not report, that he is very concerned that the story is now moving to Donald Trump's emotional stability and maturity. And reporters and Republicans on Capitol Hill are talking about it. It's a big part of the story.According to Bernstein, reporters and Republicans are talking about Donald J. Trump's "emotional stability." At least on Capitol Hill, "it's a big part of the story."
Yesterday, we thought we saw Nicholas Kristof walking a careful line. It seems to us that Bernstein is making the same suggestion as Kristof—is suggesting that there may be legitimate issues concerning our president's mental health.
There's a background to this careful discussion. In the wake of Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign, a new rule was born.
During that campaign, some psychiatrists had psychoanalyzed Goldwater from a distance, breaking professional guidelines as they did. In the wake of that bad behavior, a new rule was born. It was decided that psychiatric language should be kept out of political discourse.
For the past fifty years, that rule has generally served us well. Some players, like Charles Krauthammer, have observed the rule by refusing to observe it. Many journalists played the shrink in the case of Candidate Gore.
(As usual, we liberals sat there and took it. Simply put, we aren't smart enough to see such things going on.)
For fifty years, most journalists have agreed that psychiatry has no place in politics. We'll suggest that, in this new case, the rule is now serving us poorly.
Is President Trump exhibiting mental health issues? Even as they walk a line, Kristof and Bernstein seem to be suggesting that possibility.
Bernstein seems to be saying that the question is being widely discussed. In our view, the president's bizarre behavior seems to suggest that this should be discussed in the open, tricky though that will be.
Speaking of mental health problems: This Tuesday, Governor Mark Dayton announced that he's been diagnosed with colon cancer. On Tuesday night, did you see a certain unnamed cable star banging away on her toy xylophone, mugging, clowning and making us love her as she announced this unfortunate news?
Producer Nick Tuths helped out with the deeply weird clowning. We can't link you to the tape. Producers at this unnamed program knew enough not to post it.