Appearing more sedated and unsure than usual, Donald Trump addressed the nation from the White House on Wednesday reading a stilted speech about the unfolding crisis in Iran. I tuned in halfway though and was immediately floored by the loud, chronic sniffing and wheezing noises that Trump was doing. He seemed to be at times out of breath and struggling to simply read the prepared text off the teleprompter.
Twitter quickly lit up with references to the attention deficit disorder drug Aderall simply because Trump's strange, disturbing was so blatantly obvious. Anyone listening with the sound on was immediately struck by the slurring of words and pronounced sniffing — nearly 60 in all. This wasn't just partisans mocking a president they didn't like, this was basically anyone with functioning eyesight and hearings saying, 'Wait, what the heck is going on here?' Trump's deeply disturbing delivery should've been newsworthy, period. And on that day perhaps even more so since the content of his Iran speech was equally scatter-brained and disjointed.
But the Beltway press virtually ignored it, just as they routinely ignore Trump's public displays of erratic and upsetting behavior. The nightly evening newscast on Wednesday made no reference to Trump's bewildering behavior. And that included "CBS Evening News," which scored an exclusive interview with Vice President Mike Pence. Most major news outlets simply set that all aside, and pretended that Trump had given a coherent address.
"President Trump backed away from further military action against Iran and called for renewed diplomacy on Wednesday as the bristling confrontation of the past six days eased in the aftermath of an Iranian missile strike that seemed intended to save face rather than inflict casualties," the New York Times reported, in a normalizing dispatch that treated Trump the same way the Times would treat a President Jeb Bush or President Mitt Romney. There's just no acknowledgement of how radical and erratic Trump's public behavior is.
For the D.C. media, Trump's plain-view troubles simply do not exist. Reporters, producers and editors remain weirdly committed to not highlighting whatever everyone else can see. And surprise! They refuse to highlight behavior that raises extremely troubling questions about the President of the United States. It's a strange cover-up, where what's being covered up (i.e. ignored) happens in plain view. It's a bewildering refusal to acknowledge what's happening in plain sight.
Question: What does it mean for the most powerful leader in the free world to be acting in a bizarre and often schizophrenic fashion? And keep in mind, the press has produced no answers for why Trump was whisked away to a hospital for an unscheduled and largely unexplained visit late last year.
But I can hear the Beltway defenders now, 'Oh, we don't cover presidential trivia, like sniffles and wheezes. The big news of the day was Trump's comments on the Iran strike. Let others deal with the sideshows about Trump's delivery.' Right, except that this is the same press corps that in the summer of 2014 treated Barack Obama's summer tan suit as a three-day news event. "Reporters and political commentators went berserk, outdoing themselves with puns like “Yes we tan” and “The audacity of taupe," the Washington Postnoted years later.
In a strange way, Trump's deeply troubling public behavior really has become the third rail of American journalism — so-called serious journalists don't want to touch it. Nobody wants to go down the road of examining whether Trump might be mentally unstable or simply unfit to serve in office. Because once journalists open that door, there's no going back. Meaning, once you raise serious questions about his fitness, that has be the dominant news angle for the rest of Trump's presidency. And the media, knowing the type of right-wing hellfire that coverage would prompt, simply doesn't want to go anywhere near it.
Instead we get spectacles like the one that followed Trump's completely strange and bewildering Iran speech, where there's a collective decision by the press to play dumb on a massive scale and to pretend that Trump gave a serious speech that laid out a clear policy and that there was nothing odd about his speech patters or behavior.
Some journalists weren't afraid to tear off the blinders and be honest about Trump's speech.
From Rolling Stone's Andy Kroll:
Trump’s 15-minute speech was also a glimpse into the addled mind of a commander-in-chief with no set of guiding principles and no clear idea where he wants to take the country and why. His speech was contradictory and discordant, a mish-mash of chest-beating, dodgy history, Pentagon-humping, and empty calls for peace.