As broadcast each night in prime time: Yesterday's briefing is being treated, in some quarters, as the most remarkable yet.
On balance, it pretty much wasn't. That said, Kevin Drum, in an instant assessment, asked a constructive question:
DRUM (4/23/20): A few hours ago President Trump took to the airwaves to blather about using heat and light “through the skin” to cure COVID-19. Or maybe we should all be injecting bleach to perform “almost a cleaning.” Or something. Just so you can be sure I’m not making this up, here’s the video:By "we," we assume that Drum meant "they"—the people who run those four newspapers.
This is not just idiotic, even by Trump’s standards, but potentially dangerous since someone watching will probably decide to guzzle a cup of Clorox because they’ve got a fever. But here’s my real question. I just checked the front pages of four big newspapers and not one of them covered this. Why? How are people supposed to know what kind of moron we have in the Oval Office unless the press covers it? Do we literally just not care anymore?
This afternoon, we'll show you what Trump said yesterday in its unfortunate fullness. For now, let's consider the upside and the downside of Drum's reaction.
On the upside, Drum challenged the way four big newspapers reacted to yesterday's session. According to Drum, the newspapers chose to ignore Trump's crazy remarks—or at least, they didn't cover his remarks on their front pages.
Do these newspapers "just not care?" That's what Drum, constructively, asked.
In fairness, yesterday's session took place fairly late in the day—during prime time, as always. For big newspapers on the east coast, it may have happened too late in the day for front-page treatment—and that may be especially true given the weirdness of what Trump said and did.
That said, the topic isn't covered today in our hard-copy New York Times, but it's covered on page A4 of the newspaper's later editions. It isn't covered in our hard-copy Washington Post, but it's being featured right at the top of the newspaper's web site.
On the whole, we're going to guess that these latest strange remarks won't be ignored by our major newspapers.
Drum's reaction may have been premature, but he moved in a constructive direction. He raised the question we've been wanting to raise. He suggested that our highest-end news orgs have been enabling the manifest craziness of this very high public official.
The problem begins with the nightly airing of these frequently lunatic sessions, with no network officials brave enough to explain why these prime-time broadcasts continue.
It involves the refusal to come to terms with the obvious possibility that our commander-in-chief is psychiatrically or cognitively impaired—or quite possibly both.
It continues through the press corps' lazy reaction to his endless wild misstatements. Serious journalists, long ago, should have had the courage and the journalistic integrity to describe this obvious phenomenon as a national emergency.
Our highest-end news orgs haven't simply failed to rise to the challenge. For the past several years, they've engaged in a covert agreement. Rather plainly, they have agreed that such possibilities must not be discussed.
Discussion of possible mental illness was shut down in January 2018. Surely, this possibility has been discussed in every high-end news room and in every corporate suite, but only behind closed doors.
They've all agreed that these obvious questions must not be discussed in public. In that sense, our journalism is now largely based on withholding public discussion of deeply serious matters.
As this code of silence obtains, the crazy statements go on and on. In line with Drum's constructive question, this has been largely "normalized." Objectively, it's much as Drum suggested:
Objectively, these news orgs "just don't care anymore"—or at least, they aren't willing to show, on the record, that they care about the president's plainly disordered mental state.
What should be done about Donald J Trump's endless disordered rantings? In a world where journalists were more forthright, we'd like to see dedicated pages in major newspapers concerning his endless misstatements.
In hard copy, such pages would appear every day in a standard location, with a standard format. On line, they'd be given high visibility.
These pages would list the president's many misstatements on a daily basis, with callbacks to past misstatements. In this way, newspapers would be making a serious effort to keep their readers informed about a major national problem.
In such ways, news orgs would demonstrate their awareness that this is a major problem. They'd also be demonstrating their commitment to an entity known as "the truth."
We'd like to see cable news channels follow suit. If they're going to air these nightly sessions—if they're even going to start teasing these gong-shows during the 4 PM Eastern hour—they need to run dedicated nightly programs which deal with the endless misstatements they keep putting on the air.
This would of course produce howls of rage from other elements in the society. But at some point, entities which claim to be journalistic need to step up to the plate and declare their interest in relevant truth.
This could be done in a courteous way—but it does need to be done. Meanwhile, inside the briefing room, it's time for our somnolent, mewling reporters to start acting like real high-end human beings.
For starters, they need to stop tolerating constant interruptions from President Trump. Again and again and again and again, journalists are interrupted by the commander before they can even get a question out.
He breaks in before they can ask a question, then delivers one of his repetitive, ludicrous monologues. Again and again, the silent lambs of the upper-end press are willing to tolerate this.
There are courteous ways to say, as a group, that this behavior needs to stop. Also, to push back against these interruptions when they occur in real time.
It's time for our patsies to stand up and speak. Their somnolence, their apparent vast indifference, has become a national problem.
Below, you see something that happened in yesterday's session—something which won't be discussed at all. The White House Correspondents Association ought to be frogmarched to re-education camps for permitting this sort of thing to go on.
As we noted last week, CNN's Kaitlan Collins had been acting like an actual journalist in these daily sessions. Yesterday, sge was familiarized with the wages of sin.
Collins had asked Trump to clarify a minor point from the previous question. When she tried to ask her own question, this is what occurred:
COLLINS (4/23/20): So, can I ask you a question?That second reporter could have asked Trump to respond to Collin's thoroughly relevant question. (Collins was asking about a matter concerning which Trump had, unconvincingly, declared ignorance the day before.)
TRUMP: What do you have? No, that’s enough. Go ahead [speaking to another reporter].
COLLINS: But that wasn’t my question.
TRUMP: The problem is, you don’t write the truth. So you know, as far as I’m concerned. I want to go to the next person.
COLLINS: Can I ask you a question about Rick Bright?
TRUMP: No. Not CNN. Please, go ahead [speaking to another reporter].
COLLINS: The White House has—
TRUMP: I told you, CNN is fake news. Don’t talk to me. Go ahead. Please [speaking to another reporter].
COLLINS: But he says he was retaliated against and that’s why he was removed from this job. Do you have a response to that?
TRUMP: Okay, next question.
DIFFERENT REPORTER: Mr. President, I have two questions. One on behalf of a colleague who is not here because of social distancing...
That second reporter could have asked that Trump answer the question on the floor. But our press corps doesn't play it that way. There's almost nothing they won't put up with as they play their assigned role in this ongoing scam.
(For the record, that second reporter, the Wall Street Journal's Catherine Lucey, had been thoroughly mauled by President Trump just the week before.).
We'd planned to present a formal list of things which should be done about these ridiculous daily gong-shows. We're going to have to put that off to another day.
That said, we've touched on several basic needs as these ludicrous, information-free sessions continue. Summarizing, we would say this:
Network executives need to discuss their reasons for airing these sessions. They need to do so out loud.
If networks decide to keep airing these sessions, they need to explain their thinking in light of the president's constant, unending misstatements. They need to explain out loud.
Correspondents need to stop tolerating Trump's behavior inside that press room. There exists a White House Correspondents Association. At some point, this mewling group needs to insist on basic courtesy within these nationally televised sessions. They need to do so out loud.
There are courteous, respectful ways to make such requests. There are also courteous ways for the New York Times to create daily pages dedicated to the president's endless misstatements—and to such basic topics as these:
What is the current state of supplies for our health care workers? What is the current state of supply concerning various types of protective masks? What is the current state of supply concerning protective gowns? Concerning gloves?
What is the current state of supply concerning the basic supplies needed for testing?
It isn't enough to cover these topics in random, scattershot fashion. The state of play concerning these topics should be summarized on the same page, every day, with daily updates provided.
This would, of course, involve a refusal to accept the president's most ridiculous monologue, the monologue featuring The Gong Show of Very Large Numbers. Newspapers should compare the number of protective items which have been provided to estimates of actual need.
Until they do, we'd advise our news orgs to stop pretending that they care about our health care workers. Manifestly, they don't—or they're simply too dumb to know how to act on their concerns.
We started with Kevin Drum's instant reaction. We thought he took a constructive approach when he suggested that we should be critiquing our major news orgs along with our manifestly disordered president.
In another way, we thought he took a somewhat unhelpful approach. That said, this faulty approach can be seen all over the journalistic landscape. In this approach, journalists engage in endlessly repetitive moral scolding of President Donald J. Trump.
Joe and Mika were morally scolding very loudly this morning; they do so every day. But this moral scolding is a way of avoiding the troubling matter our news orgs have agreed to ignore:
It's a way of ignoring the fact that this president seems to be mentally ill, or cognitively impaired, or both. If true, this doesn't make him a "moron." It makes him mentally ill.
Perhaps understandably, our big news orgs have never wanted to discuss such possibilities. That said, our nurses don't want to go into those hospitals, but they do so every day. By now, our journalists' refusal to discuss this topic amounts to a dereliction of duty on a major scale.
Our reporters let themselves be interrupted and insulted on a daily basis. Their employers air the president's nightly rantings in the face of the absurd misstatements of which they're all aware.
There are courteous, respectful ways to explore an obvious question—the question of the commander-in-chief's psychological and cognitive health. But serious mental illness isn't a moral state of affairs. As every enlightened person will claim to know, it's a question of illness.
At the end of William Styron's Sophie's Choice, Stingo is ending his sojourn in New York City. He's thinking about what he has seen and learned there.
His two best friends have taken their own lives. Regarding Sophie and Nathan, he says that he regards them as "but a few of the beaten and butchered and betrayed and martyred children of the earth."
We think the statement, lightly edited, works especially well at the end of Alan Pakula's 1982 film: "I let go the rage and sorrow for Sophie and Nathan and for the many others who were but a few of the butchered and betrayed and martyred children of the Earth."
So too with those who are severely mentally ill—or with those unlucky enough to have been raised by Donald Trump's father. In our view, it's time to stop scolding this beaten, lost man, even as timorous journalists refuse to discuss the obvious possibility that he's severely disordered.
Scolding is easy; truth can be hard. For decades, telling the truth has been extremely hard for President Trump—but also, again and again, for our upper-end "press corps."
This afternoon, we'll show you the full text of the president's latest lunacies. Based on yesterday's weird ruminations, he'd have us gargling with Lysol, with a type of colonics thrown in.
This president seems to be deeply impaired. It's been this way for a very long time. Our press corps is deeply compliant.
This afternoon, We'll show you the latest crazy things this beaten, lost person has said.
Again with Kaitlin Collins: We'll say again what we said last week:
Collins is only 28. We wish her colleagues would watch the things she does to see how a self-respecting, competent journalist might be expected to act.