Longs for uncensored discourse: For our money, within our experience, it was the day's most significant statement.
The statement came from Nicolle Wallace, right at the start of yesterday's Deadline: White House program. The background goes like this:
As she started yesterday's program, Wallace cited Donald Trump's "bizarre and startling performance" in the Rose Garden the day before. She also cited Trump's recent statement about having "undergone cognitive testing."
At some length, she quoted from Peter Baker's report in the New York Times—a report which stressed the rambling, incoherent nature of Trump's Rose Garden performance. At this point—at 4:03 PM Eastern—she introduced a trio of guests.
As usual, Wallace described these guests as "some of our favorite reporters and friends." But when she threw to Sam Stein, the first pundit she asked to speak, she quickly interrupted his reply.
Below, you see what Wallace said. For our money, the highlighted statement was the day's most striking statement by far:
WALLACE (7/15/20): Can I stop you right there? Can I stop you right there?We were only in the program's fourth minute, and Wallace had made a very strange statement. She seemed to say that "the media" weren't being allowed to say what they saw—to say what they've been seeing—concerning the peculiar behavior of Donald J. Trump.
WALLACE: I worked on campaigns. If that was a campaign event, it was a crummy one.
I mean, that was neither a presidential address worthy of the Rose Garden, nor an effective political message. And I worry that in ten, twenty years, they're going to say, "Why wasn't the media allowed to say what they saw? What everyone saw?
Journalists aren't being allowed to say, to report, what they see? Since Wallace is a ranking member of the upper-end media, her suggestion acquires added significance.
What did Wallace think she saw when Trump appeared in the Rose Garden? In her next sentence, she provided a hint. This was her fuller statement:
...And I worry that in ten, twenty years, they're going to say, "Why wasn't the media allowed to say what they saw? What everyone saw?" There's something clearly wrong with his ability to process what the country is going through.Coupled with her reference to cognitive testing, Wallace seemed to be floating an obvious suggestion about Trump's mental state. But what in the world did Wallace mean when she said the "the media" was being muzzled?
In what way is the media being muzzled? By whom is this muzzling being done? As the hour-long program proceeded, none of Wallace's reporters and friends ever spoke to these obvious questions.
Nor did Wallace ever push the discussion back in that direction. To appearances, Wallace proceeded to muzzle herself! That said, it seems to us that her basic suggestion had been clear.
We've discussed this apparent situation many times in the past. By widespread corporate agreement, major news orgs have agreed that they mustn't discuss an obvious possibility—the possibility that President Trump is cognitively and/or psychiatrically impaired in a significant way.
In January 2018, the New York Times published as editorial saying that the mainstream media simply shouldn't go there. To appearances, other news orgs quickly fell into line.
At that point, the attempt to discuss the president's psychiatric condition—an effort which was being made by an array of major psychiatrists—disappeared within the upper-end press.
From that day to this, upper-end journalists and upper-end news orgs have refused to discuss Trump's persistent peculiar behavior in explicit medical terms. Even as they savage Trump for ignoring scientific expertise, they themselves refuse to interview medical experts about his remarkably strange ideation and conduct.
This is our upper-end press corps at work. As we've told you again and again, they aren't an impressive bunch.
Presumably, Wallace was making some suggestion along these general lines. Ever so briefly, she seemed to draw back the curtain on her own sense of frustration.
Wallace made her odd remark at 4:03 PM Eastern. During the rest of the hour-long show, no one ever said a word about the odd thing she had said.
Wallace walked away from her unexplained remark; so did all her guests. That said, it seemed to us that she might be channeling Lawrence O'Donnell from the night before.
As we've often noted, O'Donnell is one of the very few major media figures who have refused to abide by this particular code of silence. On several occasion, O'Donnell has interviewed Dr. Lance Dodes, former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (retired), concerning Trump's apparent psychiatric state.
On Tuesday evening, O'Donnell opened his program by noting the fact that Trump's niece, Mary Trump, herself a clinical psychology, has seemed to describe Trump as a "sociopath" in her new, best-selling book.
As always, MSNBC is slow-walking production of that evening's transcript. But after reminding his viewers that a whole array of psychiatrists have described Trump as a sociopath, O'Donnell stressed another claim by Mary Trump, in which she says that her uncle probably has an undiagnosed learning disability.
Presumably, that would be more a cognitive impairment than a psychiatric disorder. But O'Donnell said, several times, that a disability of that type would leave Donald Trump with "an inability to process information."
It seems to us that Wallace was likely channeling these remarks in her brief moment of candor.
Are corporate brass at our major news orgs muzzling reporters and pundits? Has NBC News told Wallace that she mustn't discuss the possibility that President Trump is cognitively and/or psychiatrically impaired?
Earlier this week, Eric Boehlert said that journalists by the boatload are refusing to discuss their actual beliefs about this matter. He included a statement about Mary Trump's book we hadn't seen elsewhere.
According to Boehlert, they've all clammed up. Here is the passage in question:
BOEHLERT (7/13/20): [Mary Trump is] right about the media and its thin coverage of Trump's troubling mental health. There's not a working member of the Washington press corps today who watches Trump day in and day out and thinks, ‘He's seems stable, and I have no questions about his mental capacity.’ They all know it's an alarming, ever-present issue. But newsrooms don't want to suffer the backlash—the shouts of "Liberal media bias!"—that would rain down on journalists who tackle the story, even though it's so obviously newsworthy.According to Boehlert, every journalist is avoiding this obvious topic. Yesterday, Wallace seemed to say that they're being directed to do so.
Once the press opens the Pandora's box by reporting aggressively on the president's personality disorders, that would require constant media coverage for months to come, including regular interviews with mental health experts in an effort to inform the public about the president's likely deteriorating condition and psychological impairments. (Currently, the issue only becomes news when Trump himself raises it.)
Wallace made an unusual statement, but no one pursued her comment further. Sometimes, if it weren't for all the withheld information, there would be no information at all!
Let's close on a note of admiration. We've always been struck by the great self-confidence displayed by the late Marvin Gaye, 49 years ago:
"Talk to me / so you can see / what's goin' on..." So the great Motown star said.
"Listen to us and you won't have a clue?" Is that what Wallace said?
Tomorrow: The later Wittgenstein's painful perspective on the search for better discourse