Another long week of, if not exactly surprises, then at least interesting stuff. The Donald Administration is busy crashing into the White House furniture (somebody needs to find the light switches) and the press is in full hue and cry. We’ve had visits from Canadian and Israeli bigwigs. President Trump put Netanyahu on the spot there for a moment, but I wondered if that was staged. Netanyahu, who had little or no relationship with President Obama, looked remarkably overjoyed anyway.
We had the Flynn thing (was that a debacle or just a change of heart?). We witnessed the sudden disappearance of Kellyanne Conway, erstwhile spokesperson. We’ve watched Mr. Spicer plough through that devastating SNL Melissa McCarthy impression. (The press was so in love with this skit that it received political analysis.) We’ve seen a former Navy seal decide he would rather not participate in Donald’s reality show rendition of the National Security Council. I have a feeling Donald’s romance with the military might have taken a step back on that one. Finally we got varying breathless impressions of Donald’s press conference yesterday. Even right-wing Fox was taken aback.
Pure, unvarnished Donald. You can’t say that there’s Obama PR gloss, Bush broad shoulders militarism or Clinton charisma going on here, folks. This is honesty. For the first time since, well I’d have to look it up, we have a President who doesn’t hold back, no matter what the situation is, public or private, sensitive or not.
The press, our lens to these things, loved/hated it. Loved it because spectacle makes for good ratings, as does conflict. Hated it because the press regards Trump as a doofus, the idiot who somehow got into the White House, voted in by those doofuses who live in flyover territory. They’ll soon learn, the press bigwigs think; we’ll show them just how stupid President Trump, and they, are.
With that attitude, no one’s going to be showing anyone anything. Contempt is not a good starting point for incisive reporting.
President Trump is a throwback to some of your more colorful politicians who let it all hang out. President Johnson wasn’t exactly a nice guy, despite his wife’s attempt to turn the District of Columbia into a garden. (She was remarkably successful.) President Kennedy, despite his sterling reputation, was a womanizer who abused prescription drugs, his marriage was a sham; if he had run in this last election cycle, he wouldn’t have made it through the primaries. You could say President Clinton was somewhat like Trump, but Clinton is a lot like Paul McCartney. Both are tremendously talented, smart and have good PR instincts; both are also very good at glossing over obvious difficulties and deflecting hard questions. Mr. Trump is not gifted with this sort of gloss.
Mr. Trump is, on the contrary, very New York. New Yorkers take things head on, calling a spade a spade, as it were. They cut through the crap. They figure out where you’re coming from before you’ve finished your convoluted question and provide an answer, cutting through reporter grandstanding. They also refuse to answer the same question over and over again. They tell you to shut up and sit down. If you hesitate, you’re dead in the water. They respect hard headedness and, most of all, fearlessness.
That’s the way the city is. And that’s Trump. The DC press, having been alternately courted and spurned by the Obama Administration’s smooth spin, is not used to this sort of bare bones treatment. Did Donald answer all the questions? No. Did he go back to subjects better left alone? Yes. Did he rant? Yes. Was this ill advised? How the heck should I know? The press is telling me it was a disaster, but I am suspicious of them, as well. You can’t trust anybody these days.
Obama, too, danced around difficult questions. Would he, for instance, speak out against Anti-Semitism? How? Give a speech? Play nice with Netanyahu? Tell the Palestinians to stop throwing rocks at Israeli border guards? Obama, if memory serves, pretty much ignored Israel and the Middle East in his second term. Many major news outlets laid the rise of ISIS and the escalating civil war in Syria/Iraq at his doorstep.
It’s a different style. The point is that the press needs to calm down, go back to reporting and stop speculating. Stop with the partisanship and the grandstanding. Pretend you’re on the tough streets of New York. New Yorkers demand that you earn their respect. It is obvious that Donald does not take the White House Press Corps seriously; it’s going to have to earn his respect.