Assessing what journalists said: Last week, Rep. Ilhan touched off a firestorm with her remarks about—well, with her remarks about whatever her remarks were about.
We won't be discussing Rep. Omar's remarks this week. We'll be discussing one part of the mainstream press corps's reaction to the ensuing storm.
As part of that ensuing storm, Donald J. Trump began to declaim about the alleged anti-Semitism of Those People, the ones in the Democratic Party, the bad people found Over There.
This involved typical bullsh*t from Trump, and mainstream reaction was swift. Especially on CNN, cable hosts and cable pundits began assailing Donald J. Trump for his own alleged anti-Semitism.
Especially on CNN, hosts and pundits referred to some of Trump's remarks in the wake of the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. Trump had betrayed his true colors at that time, these hosts and pundits said. For one example, consider a presentation on Anderson Cooper's CNN show during last Friday's 9 PM hour.
Max Boot, an anti-Trump conservative, declared that Omar had engaged in "textbook anti-Semitism." He then criticized Democrats for "hesitating to call out one of their own."
You can assess that view as you wish. After Boot had had his say, Cooper proceeded to talk about Donald J. Trump:
BOOT (3/8/19, 9 PM hour): Well what Congresswoman Omar said, Anderson, is really, to my mind, textbook anti-Semitism, because she was saying that people who support Israel are pledging loyalty to a foreign country.It couldn't be starker than that! According to Boot, Trump had explicitly said that there were "some very fine people" among the Charlottesville marchers who have been widely seen on videotape chanting, "Jews will not replace us."
Unfortunately, Democrats are being just as tribalistic as Republicans and they're hesitating to call out one of their own.
COOPER: And in fact, giving President Trump an opportunity to turn the tables and be the voice calling out anti-Semitism, which is obviously—I don't know if "ironic" is even the right word, but obviously stands in stark contrast to what he said after Charlottesville about there being good people "on both sides," talking about neo-Nazis.
BOOT: Exactly, the Democrats are giving Donald Trump, of all people, an opportunity to posture as an enemy of bigotry. Which is ridiculous because, as you were pointing out, the Charlottesville marchers who were saying "Jews will not replace us," those are the people that Donald Trump was praising as "some very fine people."
Meanwhile, according to Cooper, Trump was explicitly talking about "neo-Nazis" when he made his widely-quoted statement about there being good people "on both sides."
It couldn't be much more explicit than that! Trump had said there were "some very fine people" among the pitiful, crackpot neo-Nazis who staged a pitiful, crackpot march through the campus of UVa, chanting their crackpot slogan.
This march was held on the evening of Friday, August 11. The marchers have been widely seen on videotape chanting their pitiful crackpot slogan. According to Cooper and Boot, Donald J. Trump had then gone out and said there were fine people among them.
It couldn't be much starker than that—but did Donald J. Trump really say that? Did he really say that there were "very fine people" among the people who marched through the UVa campus chanting that idiot slogan?
We'll be trying to answer that question all week. That said, the claim was widely voiced last week, on CNN and PBS though not, it would seem, on MSNBC.
Indeed, Cooper had advanced a version of the claim at the start of last Friday's 8 PM hour, one hour before his session with Boot. On this occasion, Cooper had actually played the videotape of the slogan-chanting marchers, then moved to his stark assessment of what Trump had said:
COOPER (3/8/19, 8 PM hour): There's plenty to criticize about the Democrats' response to one of their own member's comments, and we're going to get into that shortly. But, Keeping Them Honest, it is more than a little rich to see the president criticize anyone for not condemning anti-Semitism when he had such a hard time condemning this:To watch this segment, click here.
CHARLOTTESVILLE MARCHERS (videotape): Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not—
COOPER: White nationalists and neo-Nazis, in public, marching in Charlottesville, chanting that and other Nazi-era slogans, "Jews will not replace us," at a weekend of protests that ended with a white supremacist ramming his car to a crowd of counter-protesters and killing a young woman.
TRUMP (videotape) You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group, excuse me. Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.
COOPER: "Very fine people on both sides." Which could mean he needs glasses. That's one possibility. The other is, maybe anti-Semitism doesn't really move the needle for him unless he's attacking political points.
Cooper seemed to say, rather directly, that Trump had said that there were "very fine people" among those neo-Nazi anti-Semites. He played the tape of the neo-Nazi march and said Trump had spoken well of some of them.
Did Trump really say that there were fine people among those crackpot marchers? CNN's Erin Burnett had said the same thing the night before, even more explicitly. She too played the videotape of the slogan-chanting marchers:
BURNETT (3/7/19): President Trump slamming House Democrats for not officially condemning Congresswoman Ilhan Omar over her criticism of Israel that has been widely condemned as anti-Semitic...According to Burnett, Trump had explicitly said that there were good people among the blatantly anti-Semitic (and idiotic) marchers.
OK, now, there is a point, but there is also this point. That comment is coming from a person who said there were good people in this group.
CHARLOTTESVILLE MARCHERS (videotape): Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!
BURNETT: So presumably some of those are good people. Joining me now are Alice Stewart, Van Jones, and Max Boot, author of "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right."
Perhaps that was among the reasons, Max.
BOOT: That was a big one.
BURNETT: Right, I know, Charlottesville. Van, look, (INAUDIBLE) is not always the best way to look at the world. However, we just saw what was said there. The president said there were good people on both sides.
Variants of this claim were all over CNN by the end of last week. And sure enough! By yesterday afternoon, a variant of the claim was presented to Sarah Huckabee Sanders—presented by a journalist who, as our "journalists" may tend to do, was relying on memory alone:
ACOSTA (3/11/19): The president, after Charlottesville, saying that there are very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville, essentially suggesting that there are very fine people in the Nazis.To watch the full presser, click here. This exchange comes near the end, at the 29-minute mark.
SANDERS: That's not at all what the president was stating, not—not then, not at any point. The president has been incredibly clear and consistently and repeatedly condemned hatred, bigotry, racism in all of its forms, whether it's in America or anyone else, and to say otherwise is simply untrue. April?
RYAN: ...That's kind of along what I was asking. Since the president did say that in Charlottesville, "some very fine people on both sides," has he, in your opinion, or has he or us, cause I don't remember it, condemned the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville for their actions against the Jewish Americans there?
CNN reporter Jim Acosta said that Trump "essentially suggested," by his remarks, that there are very fine people "in the Nazis." Working from memory rather than transcripts, CNN contributor April Ryan then said much the same thing. She left it to others to check the transcripts to see what Trump had said.
Tomorrow, we'll start by noting what Sanders said in reply to Ryan. And all week long, we'll examine the question of what Donald J. Trump really said.
Before closing for the day, let's get clear on what we won't be doing this week:
We won't be judging the adequacy of Donald J. Trump's remarks in the wake of Charlottesville. Believe it or not, we won't be assessing Donald J. Trump at all! (Nor will we be guessing at the possible length of Manafort's upcoming sentence.)
Instead, we'll be assessing the performances of Cooper and Burnett, and of Acosta and Ryan, not to mention Mark Shields' performance on last Friday's NewsHour. In short, we'll be assessing the journalists, as we've done at this site for the past twenty years.
We'll be asking if our journalists have been making accurate statements about what Donald Trump said. As we do, we'll ponder this related anthropological point:
In the end, especially at times which are fraught, how rational are we "rational animals," including those found Over Here?
Tomorrow: As stated by Mark Shields