"The insults don't matter" — ABC reporter gives Trump a pass on vicious media attacks

Backing down from a bully

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The type of Trump media smack down that recently unfolded at a pandemic White House briefing has become sadly routine. Replying to a simple query from ABC News' White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, Trump lashed out, calling him "third-rate" and warned he'd "never make it." Four years ago, it would've been unimaginable for a sitting president to attack a journalist this way. But now it's the norm, in part because news outlets have refused to stand up to an autocratic bully.

Asked on CNN's "Reliable Sources," why reporters don't get up and walk out of the briefing room when Trump launches one of his name-calling tirades, Karl insisted, "The insults don't matter." He added, "Who cares if the president is going to make personal attacks on us, the reporters in that room?" The claim that “insults don’t matter” is quite amazing. It's the media voluntarily creating new, separate standards for the Trump era, and giving him a hard pass.

Karl, who serves as the president of the White House Correspondents Association and just released a new book, Front Row at the Trump Show, was echoing a familiar claim that journalists should never become the story, and that when the focus is on the press the real news is being missed. It's a mantra used for generations and it often made sense. "As a reporter, the last thing you want to do is to turn this into a story about yourself," Karl recently told the Hollywood Reporter, while discussing Trump.  

That cover story doesn't hold today because we have a ruler who has made it plain that he wants to destroy public faith in newsgathering for purely political purposes. In three years has launched more ugly, damaging attacks on the free press in America than the previous 44 U.S.  presidents, combined.

Now is not the time to hide behind the claim that "insults" don't matter, that it's irrelevant how the President of the Untied States behaves in public, and to ignore how he's running a textbook authoritarian propaganda campaign to destabilize the free press.

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This country has operated on a premise of acceptable, decent behavior among public officials, and especially the President of the United States, for more than two-and-a-half centuries. Trump has gleefully obliterated all those standards. The idea that his rancid behavior, which is signified by the insults he hurls at reporters, doesn't matter, represents a deeply misguided way of looking at the damage Trump has done to this country, and specifically our public life.

"To me, I don't care if he criticizes reporters or if he criticizes me. That is not what's important or relevant," Karl recently stressed.

Is Karl signaling to all future presidents that it's fine if they call journalists nasty, unpatriotic people, as Trump does? Karl can't possibly think that's okay. What Karl is really saying is, there are no rules for Trump and we're simply not interested in holding him accountable. Instead, journalists want to make sure they keep their "front row" seats to the Trump "show."

Does anyone think that if a President Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama had filled their press briefings with nasty name-calling, labeling the press "enemies of the people," that the White House press corps would have spent years collectively shrugging their shoulders and chalking up the ugly attacks as Clinton and Obama personality quirks?

It's telling that Karl has a long history with Trump, having first met him while working as a reporter at Rupert Murdoch's New York Post in the 1990's. (Trump "was fun to be around then," Karl writes.) When Trump entered the campaign in 2015, he already had a relationship with Karl, which didn't stop him from unleashing a vicious tirade against him on the campaign trail.

Karl recently detailed the brutal, name-calling encounter when he interviewed the candidate:

He walked out on an interview with me, and after he was away from the cameras, he was backstage at a rally again, he started screaming at me in a way that I had really never been -- I had never felt such anger, certainly not from a news figure who I was covering. He called me a bleeping nasty guy and was -- I mean, over the top…..He walked out about three minutes into this interview that was supposed to be a long interview, and he screams at me and then he comes back like nothing has happened.

Basically, Trump ripped Karl back in 2015 and the ABC reporter did nothing in response, except sit there and take it. (He’s doing the same thing five years later.) There's no indication Karl reported on Trump's insane outburst in real time.

Again, if Barack Obama had stormed off an interview with ABC during the 2008 campaign, dropping F-bombs on his way, how do you think ABC News would've treated that encounter? Do you think ABC News would've kept quiet about the incident and simply accepted it as the price reporters had to pay for interviewing Obama?

Trump's insults absolutely matter. By pretending they don't, the press gives him a dangerous pass.

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🔬GOOD STUFF:

Trump's constant lies and contradictions about the Covid-19 pandemic, and specifically how the government failed in its response, is clearly designed to create confusion. It's done so that most people aren't really sure what Trump knew, when he knew it, and why he essentially ordered the federal government to stand down for the virus invasion.

For that, Mother Jones this week published a very useful timeline, "Trump's 100 Days of Deadly Coronovirus Denials," which lays out the consequences of the president’s lack of preparation, and seriousness. Bookmark it for future reference.  

🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Bruce Springsteen, "Thundercrack"

How have I been writing PRESS RUN for nearly three months and not shared a Springsteen clip? Ha. Answer: Restraint.

This is a great old Bruce song from the early 70's that never made onto a studio album, until the Tracks archives record was released in 1998. "Thundercrack" was written to be the band's show-stopper number back when they were playing clubs. It's a wonderful, 10-minute, Jersey Shore roller coaster ode to a beauty straight from the Bronx with the heart of a ballerina. It's a carnival of a song that goes "round and round and round," giving every band member a chance to flourish.

"Thundercrack" didn't keep its closer spot on the band's set list very long though — Springsteen soon recorded "Rosalita," and the rest was history.

Thundercrack, baby's back
This time she'll tell me how she really feels
Bring me down to her lightning shack
You can watch my partner reelin'