The skills of the upper-end press corps: How unskilled is our upper-end press corps? Consider what happened on Tuesday.
Commander-in-chief Donald J. Trump was raking question from the press. He called on The NewsHour's Yamiche Alcindor.
As if devoted to self-defeat, Alcindor rose and said this:
ALCINDOR (8/4/20): Thank you, Mr. President. I have two quick questions, one on the virus and one on policing.First, let's summarize:
On the virus, you said recently that there can be too much testing. Can you explain what the downside would be from testing too many Americans for the virus and why you haven't provided a date by which all Americans might have the same kind of testing that we have here at the White House?
Alcindor started by saying she had two quick questions. One quick question would concern the virus. The other quick question would be about policing.
She then proceeded to ask two (2) questions, each of which was about the virus. When she did, every one of the analysts screamed.
Every one of the analysts wailed. They knew that Trump would do this:
TRUMP (continuing directly): We do more testing than anybody in the world, as I explained. And I don't mean just a little bit. If you look at India, they're at about 11 million. We're at 61 million. And, there comes a point when you just, you want to focus your testing in a different way, and we'll be announcing stuff.Why did all the analysts scream when Alcindor asked her questions? They screamed because they knew that Trump would simply recite his standard speech of self-praise.
What we've done is incredible with the testing. Not only the testing, not only the number of tests, but also very importantly, the quality of the test and the machinery itself to do the test. Nobody thought it would be possible to get a 5-minute and a 15-minute result. That's a very accurate result, and we do with Abbott. Abbott Laboratories has done a great job. Many of these companies have done an incredible job.
So we're looking at that very strongly. And we're looking at doing something that if we do it--
Look, right now, what the testing is doing is helpful, but we're spending massive amounts of money and we want to have it channeled very accurately. We want to be able to help the most people we can. But we are testing at a level that no country in the world, and I've spoken to the leaders of the world and they'll ask me about it. No country in the world thought it would be, it's even believable that we're able to test so much.
Sixty-one million versus, you know, most countries don't even test. You know when they test? When somebody is feeling badly. If somebody is feeling badly, they're symptomatic, that's when they test. And that's a big difference.
With us we go around and looking because if we find spots, we find hotspots. One problem is from the standpoint of the media, we end up with far more cases than we would normally show. So it's, you know, as I called it the other day in a statement I said, "It's called media gold." You know, for the media, it's gold. But the truth is it's--we've done an incredible job in testing. Nobody in the world has done the job. Other leaders have told me the same thing. They can't believe we're able to do it. And we will continue, but we want to really be able to test very specifically the people that are in most danger, most in need.
Alcindor's two questions were fuzzy enough to guarantee that outcome. She had doomed herself right from the start.
(As you can see from Trump's monologue, he had already "explained" this once. But so what? After Alcindor teed him up, he simply "explained" it again!)
What might Alcindor have done instead? She should have restricted herself to this one (1) question:
"When will you provide a date by which all Americans might have the same kind of testing that we have here at the White House?"That question is fairly precise. As Trump began to wander afield, Alcindor could have broken in and stressed the fact that her question wasn't being answered.
Instead, she muddied the waters by asking two (2) different questions. And the first of her questions was so fuzzy that everyone knew what would happen:
Trump would simply deliver his filibuster about how brilliant our testing has been. His monologue went on for two minutes.
After he finished his filibuster, he proceeded to call on someone else. Alcindor never got the chance to as her "quick question on policing."
Alcindor represents a program which is viewed as our brightest TV news show. That said, anyone would have known where her pair of questions would lead.
Correction! Anyone but a top-level scribe would have known what was going to happen. Again and again, our upper-end press corps reveals itself as the gang which can't ask questions straight.
Let's be clear: Nothing Trump ever says on this topic will ever make any sense. To the extent that Q-and-A's matter at all, the journalist has to ask a question which is so precise that it's clear that it hasn't been answered.
At this point, that's basically pointless too. But as soon as Alcindor said what she said, the analysts all started to howl.
They could have given Trump's "answer" themselves! Everyone knew what Trump would say—everyone but The NewsHour's top scribe!
Later today: Leonhardt just can't get it done