Pressing Questions about The Press

Donald Trump has resumed his so-called Covid-19 briefings, this time without any medical experts. After watching one in its entirety, I am concerned about the White House Press Corps, which seems to me to be a huge part of the problem. 

 The July 23rd session was billed as focusing on public schools but began with Trump’s announcement that he was cancelling the Jacksonville part of the GOP Convention, because, he said, of his concern for the safety of his fellow Republicans.

Then he read, without enthusiasm and in a monotone, a multi-page document about the necessity for reopening schools on time, without any remote learning or part-time attendance.  With his occasional side trips, he ran on for 2100 words.

Finally he threw in this stunning tidbit: This morning, I spoke with President Putin of Russia, and they’re going through a very hard time with this — in Moscow, in particular.” 

Got that? He told the assembled reporters that he had just spoken with Putin, the man who has put a bounty on the heads of US soldiers in Afghanistan, according to reliable US intelligence.  That news came out a month before this briefing, and Trump had not yet addressed the issue.

And then the President took questions.    

And so the glaringly obvious FIRST question should have been something like this: “Mr. President, did you ask Mr. Putin about the American intelligence community’s finding that Russia was paying Taliban fighters cash bounties for every American soldier they killed?  And, if so, what did he say?  And if you didn’t bring it up with President Putin, why not?

Instead, the first FIVE questions were about the GOP convention, followed by THREE questions about public schools and federal legislation.

Question #9 was a  ‘gotcha’ question about opening up too fast.  ‘Why are you pushing schools to open while cancelling your own meeting,’ basically trying to goad Trump, which didn’t work because he segued to a strange and nearly incomprehensible discussion of baseball relief pitcher Mariano Rivera.

Finally, a wildly inappropriate question about funding for a new FBI headquarters, which Trump responded to with a 300-word monologue, after which he thanked the Press Corps and took his leave.

NOT ONE QUESTION about the bounties!!!

The White House Press Corps includes tough and talented reporters like CNN’s Kaitlin Collins and the PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor, and Trump did not call on either of them that afternoon. That said, it seems to me that the reporters who failed to ask Trump about the bounties ought to turn in their press passes.

In addition to questions about bounties, the White House Press Corps ought to be asking Trump the following:

“Mr. President, back in early March you said that you did not take any responsibility at all for the rising number of infections and the delays in testing.  Now that the US has more than 4 million cases and 150,000 deaths, are you willing to accept any responsibility for the situation?”

“Mr. President, back in September 2016 you promised to release your tax returns.  It was during a Presidential debate, and you said I don’t mind releasing — I’m under a routine audit. And it’ll be released. And — as soon as the audit’s finished, it will be released.”  Sir, the audits are over, and you have been fighting with every means at your disposal to prevent Congress, legal authorities, and the American public from seeing your tax returns. Why? What’s in those tax returns that you do not want anyone to see?”

“Mr. President, Are you willing to talk about what keeps you up at night?  Do you ever lie awake thinking about the 150,000 Americans who have died of Covid-19?  Or about the surges of infections, the hot spots that are popping up everywhere and the pain that it’s causing?  Do you now wish you had treated the emerging pandemic with greater urgency, perhaps by issuing a nation-wide order to wear masks or by nationalizing some industries to produce PPE?”  

This is not all on the White House Press Corps, of course.  For example, Fox’s Chris Wallace had an hour or more one-on-one with the President recently, and the above questions didn’t appear on air, so it’s reasonable to assume Wallace did not pose them.

In fact, Trump has pretty much played the press like a drum since he declared his candidacy in 2015.  Remember those so-called press conferences he held after giving speeches?  With the stage decorated with Trump products (steaks, vodka, etc) and Trump at the podium, reporters–without microphones–would shout their questions from the back of the room.  Because TV viewers could not hear the questions, Trump could respond as he wished.  He was free to dissemble, to ignore the questions, and say whatever he felt like saying.  The very first time that happened the press should have spoken as one and said, “No more coverage until the reporters are miked!”  But that didn’t happen because Trump was “Ratings Gold” (and perhaps because the press didn’t expect him to win).   It amounted to a free pass for Trump, while many in the press obsessed about Hillary’s e-mails.

It’s past time for reporters with access to Trump to stop being part of the problem.  Reporters should be asking him tough questions, and they should keep on asking them!  So what if he stomps out of his press conference and bans Kaitlin Collins (as he did Tuesday) from future events.  Other WHPC reporters ought to act in solidarity and ask those same questions….and keep on asking them so that the American people can get an honest picture of the man and his leadership.

6 thoughts on “Pressing Questions about The Press

  1. John,

    Why pay any attention to Trump’s words about schools? He’s completely about politics – nothing else..



  2. Your rant was posted on a discussion group of journalists, and here is one of the responses:

    This is not about bad reporters or reporters seeking access or lacking courage. It is that 150,000 Americans have lost their lives, it is that attacks on social justice are occurring daily. When it comes to the Russian bounty story, Trump and his team take an asked-and-answered posture. It’s not as if it’s being ignored. AP’s Kevin Frecking asked Trump whether he raised the bounty issue with Putin. He got a dodge and a weave for a response. So did Axios’ Jonathan Swan, who pushed Trump harder in a one-on-one. This is not a story that gets told out of the Brady briefing room. It gets told through digging. The very digging that alerted us to the story in the first place. Yes, the question needs to be asked. Meanwhile in sick beds all over the country more Americans are dying. People living hand to mouth are losing their benefits, and law enforcement is breaking the norms of policing. And why do we know that a failure of leadership is responsible for that? Because reporters asked questions, got beaten and told their stories.


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