Sex, fake news and videotape feed Trump’s war on the press
WASHINGTON — President Trump is a voracious consumer of news, both real and fake, as well as a creator of both varieties. Occasionally, the real version is favorable to him, as in the vote this week moving his tax reform bill from Senate committee to the floor, raising the possibility of his first major legislative success after nearly a year of trying.
More often, however, his penchant for purveying fake news has arguably made him the least trustworthy occupant of the Oval Office in the nation’s history. Meanwhile, he repeatedly goes out of his way to charge American journalism with being “the enemy of the people,” to the pleasure of many of his millions of supporters.
Ironically, the current epidemic of male sexual harassment of women — behavior that Trump has boasted of in the past — is crowding out other news. It is pointedly casting in its net not only prominent politicians like Trump but also journalism celebrities. The latest additions are network anchormen Charlie Rose of CBS and Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” show.
It fell to Lauer’s co-host, Savannah Guthrie, to break the news about him on his own show. Near to tears, she said she was “heartbroken” that Lauer was accused of “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,” amid indications it was not an isolated incident, although there had been no prior report against him in all his time at NBC.
The president immediately seized on the disclosure, tweeting that executives at NBC and its parent, Comcast, should be “fired for putting out so much Fake News.” He also called for affiliate MSNBC to fire Joe Scarborough, host of its talk show “Morning Joe,” who has been a frequent critic of Trump.
He also seemed to be floating the idea that his infamous “Access Hollywood” videotape was somehow unauthentic and not had recorded his voice, despite the fact that he had apologized for his remarks on the tape after it was aired.
In any event, the startling news of the anchor firings had to compete with the much more disturbing news that North Korea had overnight successfully launched a ballistic missile of unprecedented height and range, said to be capable of reaching any part of this country.
Trump temporarily broke off his war with the press to give his attention to the infinitely more significant news that Kim Jong Un, undeterred by the titillating gossip from the world of television, had thrown down his most threatening rebuff to the American president yet.
Joining the leaders of South Korea, Japan and the UN secretary general in condemning the launch, Trump with little bombast brushed it off by saying only, “We will take care of it,” and labeling it a “situation we will handle.”
He used the development to call on the congressional Democrats to avert a prospective government shutdown next week, tweeting: “After North Korean missile launch, it’s more important than ever to fund our gov’t & military.”
Trump’s relatively placid response to the major North Korean advance in its missile technology seemed on its surface to be no more provocative and of interest to him than the latest scandal hitting his journalistic “enemy of the people.”
Notably, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered calming words for the administration by observing, “Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now.” He added: “The United States remains committed to finding a peaceful path to denuclearization (of the Korean Peninsula) and to ending belligerent actions by North Korea.”
American military and scientific experts continue to express doubt that the Pyongyang regime has yet mastered the technological capacities to wed a thermonuclear weapon to such a long-range missile, and to explode it successfully within the Earth’s atmosphere.
For now, it’s better that Trump take out his unpredictable wrath in his ongoing feud with the American press, television and internet, and leave his dealings with North Korea to the diplomats under Tillerson and to the experienced military leaders like Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis.
Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.