Memo to Donald Trump: When a Fox News host pummels you over your lies and tactics, as Chris Wallace did today, that’s as much of a political shot over the bow as your attacks on the media.
Wallace got right to it during his 14-minute interview with Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus today. Wallace refused to be deterred in his grilling and Priebus’ answers did not help his cause (transcript excerpts via FoxNews.com):
WALLACE: Reince, President Trump said in his inaugural address said that every decision he makes will be to benefit American families. How does arguing about crowd size do that?
PRIEBUS: Because it’s really not about crowd size. What it’s about is honesty in the media. What it’s about from day one after winning this election, and President Trump talking about bringing America together, having a unified American public around unified ideas, not Republican or Democrat, he’s ready to get to work. However, the media, from day one, has been talking about delegitimizing the election, talking about the Russians, talking about everything you can imagine, except the fact that we need to move this country forward.
Priebus continued by trying to delegitimize the media over a false – and quickly corrected - report that Trump had removed the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. out of the Oval Office. Then Priebus conflated that with the New York Times showing “all of this white space” during the inauguration and went back to accusing the press of trying to “delegitimize this president in one day." He added ominously, "and we’re not going to sit around and take it.”
But Wallace was not going to “sit around and take it” either.
WALLACE: OK, you talk about honesty and say that this was about honesty. Well, there’s another issue here, though, Reince, and that is the president’s honesty, because two things that he said yesterday were just flat wrong, and I want to talk about them.
First, crowd size. I’m going to put up, take a look at these pictures. We’ve got monitors here.
PRIEBUS: But there’s another picture.
WALLACE: Wait, let’s take—take a look at those pictures. On the left, you’ve got the Obama inaugural crowd. On the right, you’ve got the Trump inaugural crowd. Which one is bigger?
PRIEBUS: Listen, you are also not saying that that picture was taken before he was even speaking. I mean, you can—
WALLACE: I was there. I was there in the Mall.
PRIEBUS: I was there, too, Chris.
WALLACE: Let me say, first of all, I think this is a ridiculous conversation.
WALLACE: But there were huge areas—he said that there were crowds all the way to the Washington Monument.
PRIEBUS: There was. Yes, there was. I was sitting there --
WALLACE: Look, I mean, put up the picture again.
PRIEBUS: You can keep putting the picture, but I can take a picture—an aerial picture right now and I can say look at the difference. If you’re not comparing apples to apples, it doesn’t matter.
WALLACE: I’m telling you, that there were huge --
PRIEBUS: You can keep telling me what you want to tell me.
WALLACE: All right. Let me --
PRIEBUS: The point is, is that instead of talking about the substance of what President Trump actually said—
WALLACE: You’re the ones who did. He could have given --
PRIEBUS: No, we then do it.
WALLACE: Wait a minute, he could have given a news conference yesterday, talked about the agenda, talked about the signing, the executive actions he’s going to sign, his legislative agenda. He talks about crowd size. Let me ask you about one—
PRIEBUS: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Let’s back up. We didn’t tweet out that MLK Jr.’s bust was removed from the Oval Office. We didn’t—
WALLACE: Wait a minute, the reporter made a mistake, he apologized. And Spicer sent him a tweet back saying “apology accepted”.
PRIEBUS: Right, so these are the mistakes that are made. A reporter shoots first, aims later. I think the magnitude—
WALLACE: Are you saying there’s a conspiracy here?
PRIEBUS: I’m saying there’s an obsession by the media to delegitimize this president, and we are not going to sit around and let it happen. We’re going to fight back tooth and nail every day, and twice on Sunday.
But Wallace was not done. He went on to confront Priebus over Trump’s lies at the CIA:
WALLACE: Mr. Trump said that the CIA talked of the feud between him and the intelligence community was a media invention.
Reince, it was Donald Trump at his news conference in New York who compared what the leaking of the Russia dossier, said it was the intelligence community who had done it, it was disgraced, and compared it to Nazi Germany. That was not a media invention.
PRIEBUS: We don’t know who leaked the documents, Chris.
WALLACE: But wait a minute. That’s beside the point. Mr. Trump said, he compared it to Nazi Germany.
PRIEBUS: Listen, someone leaked the document, some leaked the document, and you don’t know if it wasn’t someone in the intelligence community. But some bad actor—the point is this, one bad actor in the intelligence community doesn’t taint President Trump’s view of the entire intelligence community. I was there yesterday. I’m telling you, it was a love fest if you are in the room.
These are men and women that President Trump loves and respects, and the reason he went there first was to tell them I don’t want you to believe the media, that I don’t respect you all as intelligence officers.
WALLACE: It’s not the media. It’s what he’s saying. [...] [T]he point is, it was Mr. Trump who’s compared it to Nazi Germany ... It’s not Nazi Germany.
PRIEBUS: Well, it’s something that’s pretty rotten.
WALLACE: I agree to that.
PRIEBUS: OK. Well, good.
Fox is not one to shy away from accusing the media of anti-Republican bias. It's also very unlikely that a host would spend so much time criticizing a Republican, much less a Republican president, out of a sense of scruples. For one thing, Wallace almost certainly had the approval of his producer. For another, this interview had a rather narrow focus of Trump's un-presidential behavior. You'll notice that he conveniently refrained from mentioning Trump's historic unpopularity nor the groundswell of opposition to him as demonstrated in the Women's March on Washington and around the country and the world yesterday. So, in my opinion, this was a message to the Trump camp. Whether Trump will heed the message remains to be seen.
Watch the exchange below, from the January 22, 2017 Fox News Sunday, and let me know what you think. And stay tuned because Wallace was not done on the subject. I’ll have another post about how he revisited it later in the show.
UPDATE: As I wrote below, I believe Wallace's motive was more in the way of a friendly scolding than oppositional. I also thought Wallace was sending a message from Fox, not merely acting on his own conscience or news instincts. I was further convinced by a later panel discussion on the same show. Also, these comments that Mediaite caught.
I don’t refer to Trump as #OrangeHitler as mere hyperbole. Visit Wikipedia (my source of all knowledge 😉) and look up “neo-fascism”. The shoe fits, gang. The ultranationalism. Anti-immigration. The populism. The nativism. Just check on down the list. This is the antithesis of a progressive Democratic agenda.
Get used to narcissist Trump hailing he’s the greatest. The biggest electoral victory. The biggest inaugural crowds. The largest penis ever. Despite what partisan liar Priebus is saying, my perception is the media since day one of the campaign has normalized his behavior as ‘Trump being Trump’.
Wholely smolely, is she for real? Yes, Virginia, she is for real. That sort of linguistic ignorance (aka doublespeak, à la George Orwell’s “1984”) is unfortunately destined to be the norm for the next four years.
I’m somewhat enheartened by the immensity of the mobilisation for “Woman’s day”, both in the USA and around the world. Kellyann’s phrase tells us two things: 1) we’ve got plenty of work ahead in order to fight that level of ignorance; and 2) that sort of comment is so blantantly ignorant that we might be illuded into thinking the task will be easy. The real problem is that she and her boss are talking to the wilfully ignorant, i.e. people for whom “alternative facts” is not synonymous with “fiction” (aka lies, falsehoods).
I’ve placed Susan’s comment in my new file tagged “alternative facts”, subtitled “proven falsehoods”.
Susan’s comments, on the other hand, make no sense. Has Susan actually watched Fox News or Chris Wallace over the past 8 years? Wallace has repeatedly called President Obama a liar and many other things, depending on which policy was being attacked or obstructed. Fox News in general has repeatedly called Barack Obama a liar, a secret Muslim, a corrupt person, a cop hater, and more epithets than I can possibly recount at this time. Wallace gently pointing out that Trump’s obsession with an obvious falsehood about his crowd size doesn’t even begin to compare with the open hostility that was shown to Barack Obama.
I don’t think Wallace was being oppositional so much as giving Trump a scolding for his own good. I probably should have made that clearer in my post.
Wallace was frankly being gentle with Priebus here. He could have easily taken this situation apart and noted how inappropriate it is for Sean Spicer to have screaming temper tantrums in the press room, or how inappropriate it is for Spicer or Conway to invent “alternate facts” when they don’t like the truth being reported. He did none of this. His criticism here was simply that Trump and Spicer are off message on a nonsensical point. Not that their conduct is fundamentally inappropriate and actually quite troubling. If not chilling.
And I will again note that Trump is really fixating on that MLK bust, which it appears they moved from its position during Obama’s time in the Oval Office. The reporter who gave the changeover details to the pool got everything right other than where the MLK bust was. He got that they changed the curtains and the rug, and that they brought back the Churchill bust that the Right was so frantically concerned about. He just didn’t see where they’d put the MLK bust and assumed it had been moved out in the same way that Obama had moved the Churchill bust out. Not a big deal by any means – unless Trump was trying to head off criticism of the very real thing he did to home buyers in sticking it to them on the FHA rates.
The one bit of hope I have for the press, and not for a partisan outfit like Fox News, is that they will not allow Spicer to get away with childish conduct like what he evidenced yesterday. If he continues throwing tantrums, the appropriate response will likely be that many reporters will simply not participate in that fashion.
Hey Goobers — you really showed us with this one, right -?