President Trump went to the CIA. He made a point of going there the day after his inauguration as one of the first acts of his presidency to assure the agency’s employees — now working for him — that he did indeed have great respect for them.
As reported by Politico, the transcript of the Trump remarks has the President saying the following:
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I want to thank everybody. Very, very special people. And it is true, this is my first stop, officially. We’re not talking about the balls, or we’re not talking about even the speeches — although they did treat me nicely on that speech yesterday. (Laughter.) I always call them the dishonest media, but they treated me nicely. (Laughter.)
But I want to say that there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump. There’s nobody. (Applause.)
The wall behind me is very, very special. We’ve been touring for quite a while, and I’ll tell you what — 29? I can’t believe it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Twenty-eight.
TRUMP: Oh, 28. We got to reduce it. That’s amazing. And we really appreciate what you’ve done in terms of showing us something very special. And your whole group, these are really special, amazing people. Very, very few people could do the job you people do. And I want to just let you know, I am so behind you. And I know maybe sometimes you haven’t gotten the backing that you’ve wanted, and you’re going to get so much backing. Maybe you’re going to say, please don’t give us so much backing. (Laughter.) Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing. (Laughter.) But you’re going to have that. And I think everybody in this room knows it.
There was more. He said he loved them. And so on.
But the media? The media was horrified. Why? Because he upbraided the media for their reporting and, most horrifying, stood in front of the CIA’s tribute to its fallen — the above referenced 29 stars — to do it.
Take this sample of outrage over at the Atlantic penned by Andrew Exum, an ex-Pentagon official in the Obama era. In a piece titled “Cheapening a Sacred Space,” Exum makes plain his anger at Trump’s remarks, writing this:
That’s why the Agency employees with whom I spoke over the weekend were appalled by the president’s speech — that he would cheapen the most sacred space at the Agency, that their leadership would allow it to happen, and that some of their co-workers would disgrace themselves and the Agency by raucously applauding lines from a stump speech.
Got it. But where was Mr. Exum and those offended CIA employees when President Obama stood in front of that very same wall and said, on April 20, 2009, according to the CIA’s own transcript, this:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Well, thanks — thank you for the extraordinary welcome. And thanks for those of you who prepared, from the CIA gift shop, the t-shirts — (laughter) — the caps, the water bottles. (Laughter.) Michelle and the girls will appreciate that very much. (Laughter.)
Yes, of course there is video of the moment, as supplied here by none other than the New York Times, that graphically shows both then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, the President, and the CIA employees themselves all joking, laughing, and cheering in a manner that would never even be considered at, say, Arlington Cemetery. At one point Obama even jokes to the audience response, “I got an Amen Corner around here” — which is greeted with a gale of laughter.
Got a good look at that? There is the President of the United States making his first appearance at the CIA. Not one day after being sworn in, as was true of President Trump, but three months later. And what does he do? He opens by cracking jokes about t-shirts, caps, and water bottles. By bringing the visit back to his family. And being greeted by, according to the transcript, repeated “laughter.” Worse still, he was introduced by his new CIA Director, Leon Panetta, who was, again according to the CIA’s transcript, greeted by CIA employees with “Extended cheers, applause” and three rounds of laughter. All vividly evident on video. And by Monday night of this week there was Panetta on CNN Monday night wondering if Trump realized he was president when he made his remarks at the CIA.
Where, exactly, was the horror from the media at Obama and Panetta’s performance? Where were the rants about Obama — and Panetta and all those cheering, laughing CIA employees — dishonoring the CIA’s Memorial Wall? Cheapening a sacred space? Cracking jokes, being self-referential and narcissistic?
That’s right. As you might expect there was none of this. Zero. Zip. Nada. There is enough hypocrisy here to choke not just a horse but the entire entry list at the Kentucky Derby.
Which goes, ironically, right to the point that President Trump was making in his CIA talk when he said of the media: “I always call them the dishonest media.” Later in his speech he expanded on the topic, illustrating the point with this story:
We had another one yesterday, which was interesting. In the Oval Office there’s a beautiful statue of Dr. Martin Luther King. And I also happen to like Churchill, Winston Churchill. I think most of us like Churchill. He doesn’t come from our country, but had a lot to do with it. Helped us; real ally. And, as you know, the Churchill statue was taken out — the bust. And as you also probably have read, the Prime Minister is coming over to our country very shortly. And they wanted to know whether or not I’d like it back. I say, absolutely, but in the meantime we have a bust of Churchill.
So a reporter for Time Magazine — and I have been on their cover, like, 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time Magazine. Like, if Tom Brady is on the cover, it’s one time, because he won the Super Bowl or something, right? (Laughter.) I’ve been on it for 15 times this year. I don’t think that’s a record, Mike, that can ever be broken. Do you agree with that? What do you think?
But I will say that they said — it was very interesting — that Donald Trump took down the bust, the statue, of Dr. Martin Luther King. And it was right there. But there was a cameraman that was in front of it. (Laughter.) So Zeke — Zeke from Time Magazine writes a story about I took down. I would never do that because I have great respect for Dr. Martin Luther King. But this is how dishonest the media is.
Now, the big story — the retraction was, like, where? Was it a line? Or do they even bother putting it in? So I only like to say that because I love honesty. I like honest reporting.
And, along with disputing media accounts of the crowd numbers at his inaugural, this is the source of the media outrage, as illustrated by that piece in the Atlantic.
In fact what we see here is the same old, same old media double standard. A double standard underlined even further by the insistence that Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer deliberately lied about the whole crowd size business. In his Monday presser, Spicer doubled down on his point made the first time, saying: “It was the most watched inaugural… There were tens of millions of people who watched it online, on a device. It’s unquestionable.”
The latter dust-up is particularly instructive.
Former President Obama left Washington in the warm glow of the media. Editorials like this one from the New York Times were typical. Wrote the Times in a loving goodbye to Mr. Obama:
Barack Obama is leaving the White House with polls showing him to be one of the most popular presidents in recent decades. This makes sense. His achievements, not least pulling the nation back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, have been remarkable — all the more so because they were bitterly opposed from the outset by Republicans who made it their top priority to ensure that his presidency would fail.
The accolades go on and on. There is not a single reference to Obama telling the American people during the ObamaCare tussle that “if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor.” This ranks as one of the biggest untruths of a modern presidency. Unlike the famous Bill Clinton lie of “I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky,” the Obama line was a key part in selling a policy that literally resulted in millions of Americans losing their health insurance — and in some cases their lives. As here and here.
What just these examples evidence is precisely why former Bush 43 press secretary Ari Fleischer spoke out recently on what he called a “massive crisis” for the media. The Daily Caller wrote it up thusly:
Without defending Sean Spicer’s dressing down of the press Saturday regarding coverage of Trump’s inaugural crowd size, Fleischer told The Washington Post the “feeding frenzy” that resulted in the press is exactly the kind of thing that’s going to exacerbate their credibility problem with the public. They were ‘soft’ on Obama, he said, and are setting themselves up for further “damage” during the Trump administration if they refuse to cover him fairly.
“I don’t quarrel with the press for taking issue with the statistics used about the inaugural parade or the White House making a big issue of the inaugural,” he told The Washington Post. “Who cares? But I take issue with the press making this a full-throated feeding frenzy when they don’t about other issues. I think they gave President Obama soft coverage for eight years.”
Ari has nailed the problem exactly. Feeding frenzy over Obama cracking jokes in front of the CIA wall? None. Noting as he goes out the door that a serious Obama untruth on Obamacare did so much damage to millions of Americans? Not a word.
In June of 2014 — three years ago and a year before he announced for president — I personally spoke to Donald Trump about his views of the media here in The American Spectator. His response — unedited and verbatim — was this:
Well, I see firsthand the dishonesty of the press, because probably nobody gets more press than I do. As an example, last week I was on a Fox program, and I very much lambasted Donald Sterling. And then at the very end I said: “On top of which, he has the girlfriend from hell.” And the haters and the very dishonest reporters who have their own agenda, they didn’t cover what I said about Donald Sterling. They only took the girlfriend from hell and they said, “Oh he’s not blaming Donald Sterling. He’s defending Donald Sterling. He’s blaming the girlfriend.”
The press is extremely dishonest. Much of it. Some of it I have great respect for, and they’re great people and honorable people. But there’s a large segment of the press that’s more dishonest than anybody I’ve seen in business or anywhere else. And the one thing you have to do is you have to inform the public. The public has to know about the dishonesty of the press because these are really bad people and they don’t tell the truth and have no intention of telling the truth. And I know who they are and I would expose them 100 percent. And I will be doing that. I mean, as I go down the line, I enjoy exposing people for being frauds and, you know, I would be definitely doing that. I think it’s important to know. Because a lot of the public, they think, oh, they read it in the newspaper, and therefore it must be true. Well many of the things you read in the newspaper are absolutely false and really disgustingly false.
That’s three years ago. Donald Trump is now President Trump. And true to his word he is utterly unafraid to take on the media, thereby exacerbating the “massive crisis” they face.
Ari Fleisher is right about the “massive crisis” facing the media. And as a result?
Without doubt the Trump White House is going to change the way it does business with the media. And safe to say, as those various incidents from crowd size to an MLK bust to the different treatment provided Trump and Obama speeches at the CIA — from the President on down, they absolutely believe they have reason to do so.
They are right.