What Could Have Been

“He’s crazy,” they say. “He’s ignorant,” others claim. “He’s mistaken,” still others cry. Which one is it? We don’t know because the press simply aren’t asking the questions. I’ve been watching the Spicey Show (White House Press Briefings) for a few months now, and sure, the questions asked are getting slightly more pointed, but they could be so much better. Let’s run through a few examples.

Hah! That was a trick. You see, you can ask Mr. Spicer anything you like, but he still has to obfuscate and generalize. It’s not his policy we care about.

Let’s actually look at what journalists have asked President Trump and how they could do better.

John Dickerson on “Face the Nation”

1) Trump: I was going to terminate NAFTA. But they called up and they said, “Would you negotiate?” And I said, “Yes, I will negotiate.”
JOHN DICKERSON: That’s all you’ve learned, about the media? You knew from the campaign about the media.
Feedback: Sure, he didn’t answer the question directly. But he gave you a juicy topic to jump on. Instead you stuck to your script. Be more flexible and roll with his train of thought when it leads in a good direction.
Better follow-up question: Both the leaders of Mexico and Canada had said earlier in your campaign and during the presidency that they were willing to renegotiate NAFTA with you. Why did you not set up meeting to do this? Is SoS Tillerson meeting with them soon to start these talks? Why did you threaten to cancel NAFTA entirely when they were already at the negotiating table, waiting for you to join them?

2) PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As an example, we have countries where if we make a product and we send it to that country, they charge us 100% tax. If they make the same product and send it to us, we charge them nothing. You think that’s smart? It’s not. … We’re going to come up with reciprocal taxes and lots of other things on those countries. But I view that more in trade. We’re also going to fix all of our trade deals. We’re going to have a very wealthy country again.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you this, Mr. President. Congress may not go along with– so they’re going to try and find some spending. Let me ask you about the question of Medicare. They’re going to want, in Congress, to make up on the spending side, to change Medicare. Will you allow that?
Feedback: Again, a lost opportunity to follow up. Trump has just exposed his complete lack of understanding of how tariffs and protectionism affect trade. Let’s find out more about this.
Better follow-up question: Usually imposing tariffs on imports will decrease trade with that partner and increase costs to your citizens. What does SoS Tillerson think about your plan? What imports are you thinking of specifically that this applies to? Have you studied other options of improving the trade balance other than imposing tariffs on goods? Which countries are you thinking of when you say the US hasn’t made smart trade deals?

David Muir with AP

3) PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I’d say very simply that they are going to pay for it. I never said they’re gonna pay from the start. I said Mexico will pay for the wall. But what I will tell my supporters is, “Would you like me to wait two years or three years before I make this deal?”
DAVID MUIR: When does construction begin?
Feedback: Who the fuck cares when construction starts? It CAN’T start until there are open bids, plans, budgets passed, etc. YOU KNOW THIS.
Better follow-up question: A majority of people in this country did not vote for you or the wall. How are you going to get them on board with your plan? Most “illegal” Mexican immigrants are here because they simply overstayed valid visas. Very few people, only a few percent, actually attempt to cross into the country illegally through our southern border. Why is the wall such a priority for you? How do you justify its cost when that money could be spent on immigration reform?

Bill O’Reilly with Fox’s Super Bowl Interview

4)O’Reilly: Do you respect Putin?
Trump: I do respect him but —
O’Reilly: Do you? Why?
Trump: Well, I respect a lot of people but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world — that’s a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.
O’Reilly: But he’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer.
Feedback: I sense that Bill isn’t a Russia fan. He had an interesting line here, but missed out on the subtleties (quelle suprise, I know.) He lists a lot of qualities about Putin that he respects. We should go with that and dig more into those.
Better follow-up question: Many experts say that Russia is actually supporting ISIS and many rebel groups in order to destabilize the Middle East. How are they going to help in the fight against ISIS? Putin has been in power of what he claims is a democracy since 1999. International watchdogs have claimed, with good evidence, that Russia’s elections are quite corrupt. Are you saying that you respect this? America prides itself on having a free press and open democracy. Are you saying these are no longer values held by the President of the United States?

Come on, folks. Step up your game. This isn’t the playground anymore.

One thought on “What Could Have Been

  • Avory

    Excellent breakdown, Elli, on the missed opportunities and shallow responses to obfuscation and misdirection. Sad to say, but Tucker Carlson asked some tougher questions in a Fox interview than the layups offered by the main street (“fake news”) media which pulls punches so it doesn’t seem confrontational.

    One of the most distressing things I discovered working in the public policy realm and often having to do interviews with the press is how little interest they had in truly understanding issues and how depth was so easily sacrificed for sound bites. I know the average person has the attention span of a gnat, but isn’t that what journalism is supposed to do, rivet you so you can’t let go until you’ve learned something?

    We’re certainly learning very little from the nonsensical bob and weave of this president, in large part because the press keeps trying to land simplistic haymakers rather than precisely carve him up with shots he cannot escape.

    Good job once again, Elli, laying this all out.

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