SATURDAY, MAY 13, 2023
...for the past million years: In Walker Percy's acclaimed first novel, Binx Bolling conducts a search.
Today, we continue our current search. This is the question we're asking:
Did Donald J. Trump really say it?
Did Donald J. Trump really say that, as of today, he still believes that he has the right to "grab a woman between the legs?" In the course of making some such statement, did he "double down" on the comments he made, in 2005, on the Access Hollywood tape?
As a presidential candidate, Bill Clinton said that he still believed in a place called Hope. Did Donald J. Trump actually say that he still believes that, because he's a star, he has the right to do that?
That would be an astonishing thing to say—but did he actually say it? Or is the claim that he made that statement simply a song sung blue?
Our questions don't emerge from this air. Last Friday, on Deadline: White House, all four of Nicolle Wallace's guests joined her in asserting that Trump had actually made that astonishing claim, and that he'd "doubled down."
Never was heard a discouraging word! The song had been written the day before, over at Vanity Fair.
Now, Wallace and her friends all sang it. As we showed you yesterday, the first such exchange went like this:
WALLACE (5/5/23): It is an admission that the act of grabbing a woman between the legs is something that he believes today that—that deposition was in October, so he believed in October that it was something he could do, because stars could do that. And when asked under oath, "Are you a star?" he said yeah.
It's an incredible admission of conduct he believes he can carry out today.
CRAIG: ...I think today we're seeing, with the release of this tape, you're seeing in his own words in fact that he feels that it is the right of a star to do that, that they've been doing it forever and that everybody knows that they can just take what they want in this context.
As we showed you yesterday, Katie Phang, Maya Wiley and Charlie Sykes all proceeded to join Susanne Craig in affirming Wallace's remarkable claim.
If Wallace's statement was actually true, Trump had made an astonishing statement. That leads us back to the question at the core of our search:
Did Donald Trump actually say that?
For ourselves, we'd have to say that no, he actually didn't.
Trump has made a million lunatic statements down through the years. He added to his list of lunatic statements just this past Wednesday night.
But no, he actually didn't say that! He didn't say that, because he's a star, he has the right to behave in the (criminal) manner describes.
On blue cable, Wallace was performing her latest song sung blue. When she did, as per the tenets of hard cable law, a quartet of robots all agreed to agree with what she had said.
By Monday night, as we'll see below, this particular song was being sung by CNN's Anderson Cooper.
On Thursday evening, May 4, then on Friday evening, May 5, Cooper had said no such thing in his reports on the videotaped deposition.
Now, though, it was Monday, May 8, and Cooper had succumbed to Creative Paraphrase Drift.
Cooper had singing a new, improved tune. Now he was saying this:
COOPER (5/8/23): With me now is former federal prosecutor, Jessica Roth. She is now a professor at Cardozo School of Law.
You know, Kara [Scannell] was talking about the Access Hollywood tape and the deposition tape, which was played for the jury.
In that deposition tape, Trump was actually asked about the Access Hollywood tape, and he—he doubled down on it essentially. He didn't just give the, "Oh, it's a locker room thing," which is what they had worked out, the campaign worked out, when the tape initially—to kind of, you know, push it to the side.
He doubled down, saying that stars throughout, you know, for millions of years have been—not that there were stars millions of years ago, but that's what he basically said—have been able to just, you know, grab women by the private parts and get away with it.
COOPER: Essentially he's saying—I mean, he's not confessing to doing that to E. Jean Carroll. But he is saying that's—that he is a star, and that's what stars can do.
Cooper had adopted the script. Trump had "doubled down" on the Access Hollywood tape. Also, he had said "that he is a star, and that's what stars can do!"
On two occasions, Cooper snuck in a weasel word. That weasel word was "essentially."
Why did Cooper keep sneaking in that weasel word? Presumably, he knew that Trump had never explicitly made the remarkable statement which was now being put in his mouth.
He had never explicitly said that, because he's a star, it's OK for him to do that. You can't quote the statement where he explicitly said that, because no such statement exists.
Trump was never asked, by attorney Roberta Kaplan, if that was what he meant by the statements he had made. We'll guess that Kaplan didn't ask because she knew that she probably would get an answer she wouldn't like.
We don't admire attorneys when they behave this way. In fairness, our judicial adversary system leads attorneys to do such things, and we know of no reason to think that Kaplan broke any explicit ethical rules by failing to clarify what Trump actually meant.
Donald J. Trump was never asked! He wasn't asked if he thinks he has a right to do that because he's a star. He was never explicitly asked, and he never explicitly said that.
At that point, creative paraphrase walked in the door, then rushed across town to Wallace. A creative paraphrase came into existence, and with great speed the paraphrase spread.
Last Friday, we were amazed when we watched that segment of Deadline: White House.
At one point, we were amazed because Wallace made a claim so crazy that even her guests walked away.
Beyond that, we were amazed because of what we thought when we heard what the lumbering Trump had said.
Trump had said that stars have behaved that way for the past million years! When he did, we thought of the following people:
We thought of Charlie Rose, and we thought of Matt Lauer.
We thought of Bill O'Reilly, and we thought of Roger Ailes.
We thought of Harvey Weinstein, and we thought about Bill Cosby. We thought about a term which was famous all through the last American century:
That term was "the casting couch."
We even thought of President Kennedy—of his reported, borderline criminal conduct with the 19-year-old intern.
(In this case, the intern actually was 19, and she actually was an intern. No one really seems to doubt the truth of the things she eventually said in a very well-written book in 2012.)
We're omitting other names, but you may see the point. As an obvious matter of fact, male stars have been behaving that way for the past million years!
No one today is so dumb that they haven't heard about that. In that initial statement, Donald J. Trump, an infrequent truth-teller, was stating an obvious fact.
None of our journalists are so dumb that they don't know about this history. That said, when Matt and Charlie got the boot, many of their colleagues rushed forward to claim that they never had any idea of what had been going on.
You can believe those protestations to the extent you choose.
That said, those people all know that male stars have behaved that way—and have gotten away with it—over the course of the past many years.
In the parts of the videotape we get shown, that was the first thing Trump said—and then, he was asked if he himself is a star. When he gave the fairly obvious answer, people like Wallace began composing a pleasing song.
Tell us, Grasshopper! Tell us where, in making those statements, Donald J. Trump actually said that, as of today and because he's a star, he believes that he has the right to engage in sexual assault.
You'll find no one quoting some such statement by Trump, because he never made any such explicit statement. Instead, creative paraphrase came into play, followed by the phenomenon known as Creative Paraphrase Drift.
Trump did emit one peculiar utterance during his exchange with Kaplan. Before we get to that point, let's comment on Cooper again.
Speaking with Professor Roth, he quickly said this about Trump's statements on the deposition:
COOPER: In that deposition tape, Trump was actually asked about the Access Hollywood tape, and he—he doubled down on it essentially. He didn't just give the, "Oh, it's a locker room thing," which is what they had worked out, the campaign worked out, when the tape initially—to kind of, you know, push it to the side.
He doubled down, saying that stars throughout, you know, for millions of years...have been able to just, you know, grab women by the private parts and get away with it.
To our ear, Cooper seemed to be saying that Trump didn't return to the "locker room talk" explanation of his initial remarks. Cooper's statement can be read a different way. But that's what we thought we heard.
For the record, if you watched the tape of the deposition, you would have seen Kaplan play the Access Hollywood videotape. Then, you would then have seen this:
TRUMP: This is very old news. Fully litigated during debates, during everything else. Fully litigated. And you know what I said then? And I say it now, locker room talk. That was locker room talk. That’s what goes on.
You can see that at minute 39 of the deposition tape. At minute 40, you can see this, immediately after the part of the tape where Trump acknowledges being a "star:"
KAPLAN: And now you said before, a couple of minutes ago, that this was just locker room talk.
TRUMP: It’s locker room talk.
KAPLAN: And so does that mean that you didn’t really mean it?
TRUMP: No, it’s locker room talk. I don’t know. It’s just the way people talk.
Did Cooper watch the deposition tape? We wouldn't assume that he did.
At any rate, Trump did restate the original claim concerning "locker room talk." His statements on the Access Hollywood tape were "just the way people talk."
Those exchanges aren't shown on blue tribe cable. Presumably, they aren't shown because they don't enhance preferred Storyline. Before long, people were being given the impression that Trump didn't say that at all.
Trump did make one odd interjection concerning the conduct of stars.
He had started with an accurate statement about the way male stars have behaved down through the annals of time. After making his accurate statement, he added a peculiar point:
KAPLAN: This has become very famous in this video. “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet, just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the [BLEEP], you can do anything.” That’s what you said, correct?
TRUMP: Well, historically, that’s true with stars.
KAPLAN: It’s true with stars, that they can grab women by the [BLEEP]??
TRUMP: Well, if you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true. Not always, but largely true. Unfortunately or fortunately.
Unfortunately or fortunately? As Cooper noted, that was a strange thing to say.
That was a strange thing to say! That said, Kaplan didn't ask Trump what he meant by that strange remark, perhaps for the obvious reason. But judged by any normal standard, that was a strange interjection.
Judged by conventional norms, that was a weird interjection. We'd be inclined to chalk it up to Trump's amazing lack of sophistication, a quality he has routinely put on display down through the many long years.
News flash! Donald J. Trump seems to have very few real ideas about most serious issues.
There's little sign that he's ever engaged in real discussions about most such issues. He's good at reciting his endless harangues, in which he's endlessly a victim. He's unable to function intellectually about pretty much anything else.
Back in May 2016, he was famously asked, by Chris Matthews, if women who get an abortion should be criminally punished. Rather quickly, it became clear that Trump had never thought about any such question, and that he had no idea what to say.
Just a guess: Donald J. Trump has rarely discussed any such issue at any point in his life. Additionally, he likes to feign erudition at certain times, even as the things he's saying betray his world-class cluelessness.
So it was in 2020 when he asked Dr. Deborah Birx if UV light or disinfectants, taken internally, could be used to rid the body of Covid. He feigned high erudition that day as he made his bizarre suggestions to the plainly mortified Birx.
Our sense? That's what he seems to be doing when he says, "Unfortunately or fortunately." Unaccustomed to real discussion, he may have thought that he was displaying the depth of his ruminations on this particular matter.
That said, whatever he meant by the weird interjection, he certainly didn't explicitly say that, because he's a star, he retains the right to assault women. Nor did Kaplan ask him what he did mean by his weird interjection, perhaps for the obvious reason.
What did Trump mean when he said he was a star? Did he mean that, because he's a star, it's OK for him to assault women?
When he made that odd interjection, did that mean that, because he's a star, he thinks it's OK to do that?
Kaplan didn't ask. She left the whole thing where it was, and creative paraphrase started.
As blue pundits fell into line, they repeated the explicit claim that Trump had "doubled down" on the Access Hollywood tape. Then, they offered a creative account of what Trump had supposedly said.
Sadly, press corps stars have behaved this way for the past million years! In the current instance, our blue tribe lapped the porridge up.
The paraphrase emerged at Vanity Fair. The next day, it jumped to Deadline: White House, where it was recited by favorites and friends.
By this week, it was being widely recited in our blue bayous and backwaters. We've shown you what Cooper said about the doubling down and the claim that he has the right, but other pundits have recited the script across blue pundit land.
Journalist stars have behaved this way for the past million years. Al Gore said he invented the Internet, these unimpressive humans once said.
We leave you with a final point:
Creative paraphrase is easy and fun. Actual journalism is time-consuming and hard.
Gallant strives for the journalism. Goofus is drawn to the fun.