What is it about people who claim to hate the media and then spend endless hours chattering to reporters on background? The example I always think of is Steve Bannon, another guy who broke big in politics inveighing against the political and media establishments and who then ended up talking himself out of the White House after he went on record with Michael Wolff and, allegedly, off the record with many others.
If you don’t trust the press, don’t talk to them. Too bad Trump didn’t learn that lesson before doing 8,000 interviews with Bob Woodward for his new book.
Last week Jennifer Griffin corroborated parts of the Atlantic story that accused him of having described certain American troops as “losers” and “suckers.” Sources told Griffin that Trump had used the word “suckers” to describe soldiers who failed to find an excuse to get them out of service in Vietnam, and that he had suggested that Americans wouldn’t want to see disabled veterans at a military parade in Washington. The president called for her to be fired over that report.
The knock on the Atlantic story and Griffin’s report is that their sources were anonymous. There are good reasons why someone sharing unflattering information about Trump might not want their names in the press — look what happened to the last guy who went on record — but certainly it’s fair to question the credibility of sources who seek anonymity in peddling dirt. The wrinkle is that that healthy skepticism is never, ever applied evenhandedly. No one discounts anonymous sourcing when it supports a story that serves their own political interests, a point Griffin herself made to Mediaite today. If a few pro-Trump employees at the Pentagon want to cobble together a tale of Biden having disrespected the troops as VP and then feed it to Fox News primetime anonymously, it’ll be devoured ravenously.
The irony, Griffin claims, is that Trump himself is apparently a frequent “anonymous source” for White House reporters.
She noted that Deep Throat was an anonymous source when he provided The Washington Post with key information regarding President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal…
“It’s important that readers know that much of the most important reporting that’s happened in politics has come thanks to anonymous sources that would otherwise not be able to speak on the record about stories,” he said.
“It’s my understanding, Aidan, that one of the biggest anonymous sources for the White House press corps is President Trump himself, and the people around him are often the anonymous sources that you hear them talk about at the White House,” Griffin said. “So it’s completely hypocritical. People are picking and choosing when they want to hear from anonymous sources.”
The counterpoint to Griffin is that not all anonymous sources are created equal. If, like Deep Throat, a source has hard evidence of corruption and seeks anonymity when supplying it to a reporter, that’s one thing. If instead all the source has is a memory of a dubious damaging remark, and that memory just so happens to be offered to a reporter in the thick of a presidential campaign, that’s a little different. You can corroborate that memory with other sources to try to gain confidence that it’s accurate but at the end of the day you’re relying on the recollections and integrity of several people who may or may not have political axes to grind and aren’t so exercised by the damaging remark that they’re willing to go on the record to expose it.
Whereas if you’re getting material on background from the president himself about what’s happening in the White House, that’s a wee bit more reliable. What I’d want to know from Griffin is how, exactly, Trump is exploiting his anonymity with reporters. Is he dangling little nuggets of info to them about policy developments that are in the works, or moves his campaign is planning to make? I.e. newsy stuff? Or is he engaged in the same score-settling by badmouthing enemies that the Atlantic’s sources are suspected of? If it’s the latter then the media is laundering the same type of political attacks for Trump and his inner circle as the Atlantic did for his critics. Why should he grumble about getting a taste of his own medicine?
I thought Griffin’s report on the Atlantic story last week might be the final straw in Trump’s long intermittent war with Fox, which has reportedly gotten hotter this year behind the scenes…
In private Trump blames Fox Corp. cochairman Rupert Murdoch for allowing segments like Griffin’s on the air. Sources who’ve spoken with Trump told me Trump thinks Murdoch wants him to lose. “Trump definitely thinks Rupert is not in his corner,” a Republican close to the White House said. Trump is not entirely wrong. Sources close to Murdoch said Murdoch has told people he thinks Trump will lose in November. Murdoch is thinking about how to steer his media empire into a post-Trump environment. “This is about business for Rupert,” one source said.
Earlier this summer Trump screamed at Murdoch during a phone call, according to a source briefed on their conversation. “They had a humongous blowup. Trump yelled that Fox’s coverage is unfair and the polling is fake,” the source said. “Rupert defended the network’s standards and polling.”
…but after watching this clip from today’s press briefing, I don’t know. Sounds like this guy is watching 10-12 hours of Fox per day at this point and presidenting in his spare time. We’ll see what happens at the first debate, when he and Chris Wallace will square off. If it goes badly or him, maybe he’ll finally start introducing an hour or two of OAN into his daily Fox marathon.
Trump: "I am the hardest working President in history."
Also Trump: pic.twitter.com/wxzeNDiYFo
— The Republican Accountability Project (@AccountableGOP) September 10, 2020