Top journalists try and they fail: During last evening's televised "daily briefing," the New York Times' Yamiche Alcindor attempted to question President Donald J. Trump.
She tried to question Trump, and she failed. The abject lack of skill she displayed might serve as an anthropology lesson.
Alcindor tried, and she failed. Despite this fact, Lawrence O'Donnell delivered a tribute to Alcindor early in last evening's Last Word program:
O'DONNELL (4/20/20): Today, the intrepid Yamiche Alcindor asked Donald Trump a simple question: Is he concerned? Concerned about people who listen to him, and believe him, and then get sick.From there, O'Donnell played tape of the question Alcindor had asked. He included the start of Trump's long and rambling—and successfully evasive—non-answer answer.
It was a simple question. But the answer could not possibly have been more perverse.
Below, you see Alcindor's question, along with the start of Trump's evasive non-reply. This is the part of the more than four-minute exchange which O'Donnell aired:
ALCINDOR: That second question [I want to ask] is about your language and how you approached the coronavirus at the beginning.Trump's long, rambling, evasive answer rambled on from there. Predictably, he quickly began discussing his heroic action in instituting restrictions on travel from China and Europe—limited restrictions which he constantly describes as "bans."
I interviewed someone who says that his family got sick—they went to a funeral in mid-March, and they said mainly because the president wasn’t taking it seriously. He said, “If the president had had a mask on, if he was saying that we should stay home, then I would have stayed home. Instead, I have family members—"
But he said his family members were sick and because they were listening to you. Do you feel like or are you concerned that downplaying the virus maybe got some people sick?
TRUMP: And a lot of people love Trump, right? A lot of people love me. You see them all the time, right? I guess I’m here for a reason, you know. To the best of my knowledge, I won, and I think we’re going to win again. I think we’re going to win in a landslide...
The China "travel ban" was announced on January 31, went into effect on February 2. Trump always discusses this "travel ban" when he's challenged about the crazy things he said in February and in the first weeks of March.
Trump's position seems to be this: Because he'd issued the "travel ban," it should have been obvious to everyone that he was taking the coronavirus very seriously. To give you the flavor of what we mean, here is a longer chunk of the way he started last night:
TRUMP: And a lot of people love Trump, right? A lot of people love me. You see them all the time, right? I guess I’m here for a reason, you know. To the best of my knowledge, I won, and I think we’re going to win again. I think we’re going to win in a landslide. But just so you understand, you’re talking about March, right? And yet—He'd put on a ban of China in January! How could Alcindor possibly say he wasn't taking it seriously?
Excuse me, excuse me. I know, I understand. And yet in January, a certain date, you know the date better than I do, we put on a ban of China where China can’t come in, and before March we put on a ban in Europe where Europe can’t come in. So how could you say I wasn’t taking it seriously?
You'd almost think that everyone would know how to answer that question. The answer involves the crazy statements Trump made in February and then in March, long after he'd issued his "ban."
You'd think that every living human would know how to answer Trump's question! As an example of what we mean, John King said this on CNN moments after last night's "briefing" ended:
KING: If the Trump administration gets to write the history of 2020, it will erase February and half of March. That's what you get when you listen to these briefings.How could anyone possibly say that Trump wasn't taking it seriously? You could say it because of the crazy things he proceeded to say as the days and weeks rolled on.
Yes, the president did ban that travel from China. But go through February: "We have no problem with testing." "It's going to quickly go away." "We're at 15 cases, it will soon be down to zero."
The president refuses to acknowledge that, yes, he took one bold step early on, but then he didn't do a lot of other things.
The list of Trump's statements and tweets includes such iconic groaners as these:
A few of the president's groaners:Thousands of people do die of the flu every year. But by the end of March, Trump had executed a giant flip. He said that if we don't proceed to shut things down, the coronavirus could take as many as 2.2 million American lives this year.
February 10: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”
February 25: "You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are...getting better. They’re all getting better."
February 26: “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done."
February 27: “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
March 2: "We had a great meeting today with a lot of the great companies and they're going to have vaccines, I think relatively soon.”
March 6: “Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. They’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.”
March 6: "[Holding rallies] doesn't bother me at all."
March 9: "So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on."
March 10: "We’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away."
Yesterday, Trump asked Alcindor a simple question. After he'd instituted his heroic travel "bans," how could anyone say he wasn't taking this matter seriously?
You'd think that anyone would know how to answer that question. But when Alcindor asked a follow-up question, she didn't cite any of Trump's iconic crazy statements. The very same breakdown had occurred at Monday's briefing, when Weijia Jiang of CBS attempted to challenge Trump on this very same point.
Last night, O'Donnell called Alcindor "intrepid." As he continued, he called Trump a sociopath.
He may well be right about Trump, but we'd describe Alcindor in a different way. We assume that she's a very nice person—but we'd call yesterday's performance "incompetent." We'd have to say that she seemed "unskilled," stunningly "unprepared."
It's easy for liberals to see the way Trump evades, insults, misstates. It's much harder for liberals to see the way our high-end press corps fails.
We think those people are on our side. We think they're being very brave. We see them called "intrepid."
We may not be able to see their remarkable lack of elementary skill. We'll discuss these upper-end failures over the next few days.
Tomorrow, we'll show you what happened when Alcindor and Jiang tried to question Trump on this blindingly obvious point. By Thursday or Friday, we'll offer a list of things which ought to be done by our upper-end news orgs as these daily prime-time gong-shows devour the nation's IQ.
Tomorrow, we'll evaluate the competence of the high-end journalists who sit inside that briefing room. Jiang represents CBS; Alcindor is from the New York Times.
They attempted to question Donald J. Trump. It's truly amazing to take a look at how badly they failed.
Tomorrow: The follow-up questions not asked