WEDNESDAY, MAY 10, 2023
Philip Bump says maybe it was: When journalism becomes thoroughly tribal—when it's thoroughly segregated by viewpoint—you can be completely sure of one thing:
You can be sure that we'll constantly hear the claims which make us tribally happy. Within our tribe, we'll hear "songs sung blue"—stories which enhance our tribe's preferred preconceptions.
(All other songs must die.)
In the past few days, one such song has been the song about Donald J. Trump and the photo he clownishly bungled during his deposition. In a May 5 piece for the Washington Post, Philip Bump starts to call the play-by-play of the clownish incident:
BUMP (5/5/23): Carroll’s attorneys had handed Trump a black-and-white photograph showing Trump at a social event at some point generally contemporaneous to the time of the alleged rape. Trump considered it for a moment, identifying one man as former television anchor John Johnson. Then he pointed at a woman on the left side of the photo.
“It’s Marla,” he said, referring to his former wife Marla Maples.
There was a pause. Then the attorneys for Carroll prompted him: “You’re saying Marla is in this photo?”
“That’s Marla, yeah,” Trump replied. “That’s my wife.”
Uh-oh! As it turned out—as everyone but Trump already knew—the woman he was pointing to, on the left of the widely publicized photo, was actually E. Jean Carroll! It wasn't Trump's former wife at all!
At the time the photograph had been taken, Trump was still married to his first wife, Ivana Trump. She was visible on the right side of the photo, but Trump was now mistakenly identifying Carroll herself as Matla Maples, his (second) wife, and it seemed he couldn't quite identify that other woman at all!
As Bump mentions at the start of his piece, our tribe had special fun with this remarkable blunder because of a remarkably stupid and clueless thing Trump had already said. He had said that Carroll "wasn't his type," seeming to say that that explained why he wouldn't have assaulted her.
Now, it began to seem that Carroll really was "his type"—so much so that Trump couldn't seem to tell her apart from his actual second wife!
In the past few days, everyone and his or her blue tribe aunt or uncle mocked Trump for this ludicrous error. Blue pundits have constantly said that this clownish error destroyed his "not my type" claim.
We've enjoyed a good solid laugh at Trump's spectacular dumbness. Pundits have said that this clownish error surely helped the jury decide.
Having said that, hold on! Bump's analysis piece carries the headline shown below—and we think it may well explain Trump's clownish mistake:
Did Trump’s anti-glasses vanity doom his E. Jean Carroll defense?
Uh-oh! In his analysis piece for the Post, Bump recalls a situation which was widely discussed a few years back. He started with an event in 2014—an event in which, inevitably, Trump was being sued:
BUMP: Trump both needs glasses and generally refuses to wear them. In the deposition video, he isn’t, perhaps understanding that the video of the deposition would eventually be made public.
The situation was reminiscent of a situation in 2014. That year, Trump was being sued by people who’d purchased properties from Trump in Florida. Sitting in the witness box, he was presented with a document to consider.
In that earlier situation, Trump had to borrow the judge's glasses before he could read the document. According to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, “Trump quipped that he should wear them all the time, but he’s ‘too vain.’ ”
By itself, that incident doesn't prove a thing—but at this point, we jump ahead to August 2019. At that point, Ashley Feinberg got a fair amount of attention by suggesting in Slate that various reading errors Trump had made in public, along with some curious behaviors, may have been the result of his need for glasses.
We won't run you through all the examples Feinberg offered. Included was the giant font Trump required on his teleprompter, as well as a curious incident where he thought he saw his third wife in a window, even though no one was there.
For the record, Feinberg was no fan of Donald J. Trump. Her Slate piece ended like this:
FEINBERG (8/6/19): If you spent your days unable to see, constantly unsure of what you were doing and to whom you were speaking, wouldn’t you be agitated too? Wouldn’t you also probably resent being asked about details? And wouldn’t all of this result in a general state of surliness and short-temperedness?
There’s no question that our president’s brain is broken, and that his mental acuity isn’t anywhere near what it once was. But perhaps it all isn’t quite as bad as we thought. Perhaps Donald Trump just needs to wear his goddamn glasses.
Is that what happened when Donald J. Trump bungled that recent photo? Once he realized that he had bungled, he said the photo was blurry.
Is it possible that, for him, the photograph actually was? Prophetically, Feinberg also said this at one point:
FEINBERG: Based on the available evidence, and by Donald Trump’s own admission, it’s safe to assume that, like me, our president also walks around in a world made almost entirely of blurs and soft-edged shapes. And in fact, it would explain quite a lot.
Just this once, we'll be honest:
We've watched that part of the deposition tape about a million times by now. We'd be willing to bet even money that Bump's piece does explain The Case of the Clownishly Bungled Photo.
After watching that tape again and again, we'll guess, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Bump's piece probably does explain what actually happened. But at this point, according to experts, hard tribal law steps in:
You see, that explanation of Trump's clownish mistake would be a tribal buzzkill. For that reason, it must be replaced by a song sung blue. Philip Bump's piece must die.
As an anthropological matter, the key takeaways are these:
At times of tribal polarization, our blue tribe will hear a long string of songs sung blue. (On Fox, they'll hear songs sung red.)
We blues won't surrender our songs sung blue. Philip Bump's unwanted piece in the Post must never be mentioned again!