You could be forgiven, if you watched Donald Trump’s combative postelection news conference Wednesday morning – in which he called CNN’s Jim Acosta a “rude, terrible person” as a White House press aide tried to yank a microphone away from the reporter – and thought you had tuned into a rerun.
After all, the last time Trump held a solo news conference was a similarly combative affair, in which he yelled at Acosta and called CNN and BuzzFeed “fake news.” On Wednesday evening, Acosta was stripped of his White House press credentials, falsely accused in a tweet by the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern.”
You could be forgiven for thinking this was all a canny put-on, staged by a master of distraction who would love nothing more than for the so-called media elite to get huffy and focus on how his tin-pot despot act affects them rather than on the significant troubles swirling around him, especially after his Republicans had just lost the U.S. House of Representatives.
It was comical, after all, to read Sanders’s tweets defending the revocation of Acosta’s press pass, in which her stretchers included: “President Trump has given the press more access than any President in modern history.” So, sure, you could be forgiven for responding to that with a sober summary of data compiled by the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which notes that, before this week, Trump had held precisely one solo news conference since his election two years ago: the one, in January, 2017, before he even took office, which featured his previous attack on Acosta.
In his first two years in office, Barack Obama held 17; George W. Bush held seven; Bill Clinton, 27; George H.W. Bush, 56; Ronald Reagan, nine.
But then, if you did respond that way, you’d have fallen for their bait. Because then you’d have to point out that Sanders followed that tweet by posting a video of the incident that appears to have been doctored to make Acosta’s attempt to hold onto the mic seem more aggressive than it was. And then you’d have to watch the frame-by-frame breakdown of the scene like some Kennedy assassination conspiracy nut studying Zapruder outtakes. And then you’d have to note that the Associated Press is reporting the video that Sanders tweeted was originally posted by an editor-at-large of the actual conspiracy website InfoWars. And then you’d wonder with growing despair how we all fell down this rabbit hole and whether we’re ever going to get back out.
And then you’d realize, again, that we’ve been distracted.
And so you could be forgiven, with a President who has helped reduce our collective attention span to 280 characters, if you have forgotten that The New York Times dropped an investigatory bomb on his White House just last month, with a damningly authoritative 14,000-word special report demonstrating Trump had participated in tax fraud and lied for his entire life about the basis of his wealth. With the Democrats in charge of the House, that story is only going to get worse for the President.
And you could be forgiven for forgetting that, only hours before Sanders stripped Acosta of his credentials, attorney-general Jeff Sessions had resigned on Trump’s request, to be replaced by an apparent lackey, throwing the Mueller investigation again into crisis.
And you could be forgiven if you’d forgotten that Trump’s administration has been a bonanza of backstabbing, a carousal of corruption. That his trade policies are ruinous for the U.S. worker and consumer alike; that he has done nothing meaningful on immigration because doing so would take actual courage and moral leadership; that he has, in an appalling abdication of responsibility, wholly refused to act on the growing health-care crisis.
As dawn broke on Thursday and news trickled in of yet another mass shooting, you could be forgiven for thinking that Trump’s attacks on the press are designed to delegitimize those who might help lead a national conversation about the place of guns in America, for which he is entirely unequipped.
Acosta wasn’t the only reporter Trump attacked on Wednesday: Asked by Yamiche Alcindor, an African-American reporter for PBS, whether he had emboldened white nationalists by calling himself a “nationalist” on the campaign trail, Trump waggled his finger and barked, astonishingly: “That’s such a racist question.”
You could be forgiven for getting upset about that. And then what?