Saturday, September 7, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He woke up angry and confused again, this time about the media.

This past Sunday, Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker wrote a piece headlined "Trump’s lost summer: Aides claim victory, but others see incompetence and intolerance." It detailed the frustration that Trump staffers felt over Trump's increasingly erratic behavior and "self-sabotage" of his own agenda. The piece cited White House staff, and a number of named prominent Republicans. It joins a number of recent articles featuring Trump's own employees as sources that call his stability into question.

This morning, apparently, Trump got around to reading it. His response was to demand that Rucker and Parker be barred from the White House.

Trump's anger at the press is sometimes feigned, and even when genuine—he doesn't take it well when he thinks the media isn't fawning over him enough—it usually loses out to his desire to be in the spotlight. (He's given interviews to the Post, the New York Times, and other media outlets he supposedly hates.) In any event, his half-hearted attempts to ban reporters from doing their jobs have run into legal problems.

But the particular insult he hurled at Rucker is interesting. It appears to be a reference to a rumor that Rucker "burned" Trump's former personal assistant, Madeline Westerhout, who was fired last week for comments she made about Trump's daughters Ivanka and Tiffany. According to that rumor, Rucker incorrectly revealed Westerhout as the "off the record" source of those comments. (Rucker hasn't commented on the rumor, because to do so would be to confirm or deny that Westerhout was a source, which he couldn't do without her permission.)

In other words, Trump is angry at Rucker for "FAKE" sources—and also for supposedly revealing his sources, who are real enough for Trump to fire.

Donald Trump wasn't the only Trump to get confused about how journalism works this week. His son Eric was widely mocked after he angrily called out another Washington Post journalist for offering to let Trump Organization employees speak "on background." Eric Trump seemed to think that Pulitzer prize winning reporter David Farenthold was doing something wrong by letting Trump Organization employees know that they could speak to Post reporters without being quoted by name. In fact, it is normal and ethical for reporters to cultivate sources.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents don't get to tell the free press what they're allowed to say.
  • Freedom of the press is more important than Donald Trump's feelings.
  • It's bad if the president's own staff and advisers think he's bad at his job and mentally unsound.