Friday Talking Points -- Media Gets Played By Trump, Again

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 16: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the James L. Knight Center
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 16: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the James L. Knight Center on September 16, 2016 in Miami, Florida. Mr. Trump is in a tight race against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as the November 8th election nears. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The media got played by Donald Trump this morning, once again. Picture Charlie Brown lying flat on his back, wondering why he keeps falling for the old kick-the-football bit. That was cable television, after they had carried -- live -- a full hour of an empty podium (Trump didn't start on time), then a full-on advertisement for Trump's new D.C. hotel, then some surrogates saying how wonderful Trump was. At the very end, Trump uttered the 30 seconds of soundbite the cable channels had been waiting for, and then even though it was billed as a press conference, Trump walked off and refused to answer any questions.

Here's a hint, for the clueless cable networks: if you don't want to feel cheap and dirty afterwards, then don't get in bed with Trump again. If you don't want to hear: "Oh, and there's some money on the dresser, why don't you buy something nice for yourself..." then don't put yourself into that situation in the first place.

Of course, the networks were outraged. They'll be outraged right up until Trump pulls the exact same trick on them in a few days. Rinse and repeat. Trump did almost exactly the same thing with his Dr. Oz appearance, a few days earlier. First, he was going to release his medical report. Then he wasn't. Then, he let Dr. Oz have a peek at a one-page summary. The media ate it up with a spoon, breathlessly reporting on each twist and turn. No wonder the Trump campaign isn't buying many ads -- they really don't have to when they can play the media like a fiddle, week after week.

Perhaps there's a silver lining to this story. Perhaps this will finally be the straw that breaks the camel's back. After Matt Lauer's disastrous performance with Trump and Clinton, the media has gotten noticeably tougher on challenging Trump's blithe claims and shifting positions. Harder questions are being asked, and non-answers (and outright lies) are being challenged. Nobody wants the scorn that was heaped on Lauer. Well, except for Jimmy Fallon, but he's a comedian and doesn't call himself a journalist. The ones that do consider themselves journalists all seem to be coming out of their daze in the past week or so, and waking up to their responsibilities to separate fact from fiction on the campaign trail. So perhaps Trump blatantly playing them this morning will stiffen their spines even further. Hey, anything's possible, right?

In other news from the campaign trail, Trump once again failed badly in a photo-op event reaching out to African-Americans. No surprise there, really. After being chastised by the pastor who invited Trump to Flint to speak about their water crisis, Trump was on television the next day picking a fight with her. Chalk up another fail on the Trump minority outreach tote board, folks!

In similar news, Donald Trump Jr. insulted Jewish voters by making an offhanded Holocaust joke. Junior also admitted that Dad isn't going to release his tax returns at all, because then people might say mean things about his finances. A chip off the old block!

Let's see, what else? Yet another newspaper that routinely (for the past century, in fact) endorses Republican candidates could not bring themselves to endorse Trump. So far, there have been precisely zero major newspapers to back Trump. More papers have endorsed Gary Johnson than have endorsed Trump, in fact. Embarrassing!

Hillary Clinton had a pretty dismal week as well, beginning by not admitting she had been diagnosed with pneumonia last Friday. She then pigeonholed half of Donald Trump supporters into a "basket of deplorables," and refused to back down (except for the part about "half"). While attending a 9/11 memorial service, Clinton was overcome by the heat and stumbled badly getting into a van. It took her campaign hours to admit she actually was sick, which certainly didn't do her any good on the transparency front. Also, all week long her poll numbers have been falling.

It isn't exactly time for Democrats to panic, but Clinton surely does need to turn things around soon. Her best chance will be at the first of the three televised presidential debates, for which she's been preparing for weeks now. Now, if (hypothetically speaking) Clinton physically collapses on stage during the debate, that would be the time for Democrats to panic, because that might guarantee President Trump. But if Clinton confidently shreds Trump in the first debate, her campaign can get back onto the right track in an instant. To put it another way, there's a lot riding on this debate, and it will doubtlessly be the most-watched presidential debate of all time.

And finally, we got a whole bunch of excellent economic news this week, not that most of the media was paying much attention. I wrote about this good news in more detail on Wednesday:

To review: wages grew more than ever previously recorded. Poverty fell at the steepest rate since L.B.J. was in the White House. According to Gallup, the rate of uninsured Americans was at 18.0 percent in 2013, and it is now down to 9.1 percent. That means the percent of people without health insurance is now half what it was, just before Obamacare started. Half! Obamacare has done precisely what it was designed to do, to put this another way. The job market continues to improve, as it has steadily throughout most of Obama's term in office (after the bottom was hit during his first year). The wage gap between men and women even slightly improved. Oh, and raising minimum wages means everyone's wages increase, and this starts from the lowest income levels and moves up -- instead of the top-down wage increases that really only benefit the one percent.

All of these facts should be highlighted by Hillary Clinton during the debate, because they all paint exactly the opposite picture as what Trump's been saying during his entire campaign. Things are getting better out there, mostly because of Obamacare and hiking the minimum wage -- two prime issues for a Democrat to campaign on.


President Obama earned at least an Honorable Mention this week, for appearing solo on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. He was back to his old campaigning form, but the real reason it's worth a mention here is because an event like this hasn't happened in almost thirty years. An incumbent president is normally expected to campaign for his party's nominee, but it hasn't actually happened since Ronald Reagan did so for George H. W. Bush in 1988. Both times it could have happened since then, it didn't. The first was in 2000, when Al Gore didn't want Bill Clinton to campaign for him, because the Monica Lewinsky impeachment scandal was still so fresh. Many pundits later wondered whether Clinton making appearances (say, in urban environments) for Gore could have pushed him over the top. The second time this might have happened, neither John McCain nor any other Republican candidate wanted anything to do with George W. Bush, whose approval ratings had sunk into the 20s. Bush was roughly as popular as Richard Nixon was, just before he resigned, so he didn't get any invitations to campaign (to say the least). So Obama's appearance this week really should have been a normal thing for a second-term president to do, but this hasn't actually happened for a very long time.

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award instead goes to five senators, led by Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who are attempting to bring back the public option for health insurance. Merkley was joined by Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and Patty Murray, and soon dozens of other Senate Democrats were flocking to co-sponsor the measure.

They realize they have an uphill climb in front of them. They are really hoping to build support so they can pass a bill in the next Congress, with a new president. These things take time, in other words, but that shouldn't detract from beginning the effort now. The public option is supported by Hillary Clinton and by millions of Americans, so raising the issue now means it will be talked about during the campaign.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has already succeeded in reducing the uninsured rate of the American public by half -- from 18 percent down to 9 percent. Introducing a public option will only make the marketplaces better and more competitive. Now that the two biggest Democratic foes of the public option (Max Baucus and Joe Lieberman) are both gone from the Senate, it is time for the debate to begin anew.

For reintroducing the measure, we have five Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards this week, for Senators Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and Patty Murray. If Democrats manage to take back the Senate, we can expect a full-throated debate early next year on the issue. For getting this particular ball rolling, these senators deserve recognition and support, so handing them MIDOTW awards is the least we can do.

[Rather than congratulating the five winners directly, instead we'd encourage you to take a minute to sign the petition supporting a public option for health insurance.]


The obvious choice for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is none other than Hillary Clinton. While she was resting up, perhaps a fitting punishment would have been to write 100 times on a chalkboard (Bart Simpson-style): "It's not the crime but the coverup that gets you."


There was no real "crime" here, of course. Not telling the public and the media that you are sick is not even remotely against the law, even for presidential candidates. And, once again, you can fully sympathize with Clinton's motivation for keeping a lid on her personal information -- there was already a lot of wild and unfounded speculation running around the darker corners of the right-wing echo chamber that she had some deathly disease. Admitting that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia would, obviously, just feed into that whole rumor mill.

Still, the penchant for secrecy when none is really necessary is a definite pattern of behavior for Clinton, and one she would do well to change in the future. Imagine the following scenario, instead of what happened: Clinton publicly announces she's got pneumonia on the same day she is diagnosed (last Friday), and shows the media a letter from her doctor explaining what she's got and how she's treating it. Then she boldly announces that while she will be taking a little time off from normal campaign events, she will make the effort to go to the 9/11 memorial service, since she was so intimately involved in the aftermath (being one of New York's senators, at the time). She attends the event and then has to leave early for medical reasons. She staggers getting into her vehicle, and is caught on video.

That would be a much more sympathetic scenario than what took place, wouldn't it? Rising from her sickbed to honor the fallen, but being overcome and having to be helped away. That's a sympathetic portrait of a dedicated politician. Instead, what we got was a whole lot of unnecessary secrecy and a very bad photo op.

Instead of the story being defused before it happened, it becomes a story about Clinton not being fully transparent and choosing secrecy when it really wasn't even warranted. That feeds into a negative image of her that plenty of voters already hold.

So for not being upfront with the state of her health while running for president, Hillary Clinton is indeed our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Repeat after me: It's not the crime, it's the coverup that gets you. It's not the crime, it's the coverup that gets you. It's not the crime, it's the coverup....

[Hillary Clinton is currently running for office, and it is our standing policy not to provide contact information to campaign websites, sorry.]


Volume 409 (9/16/16)

Lost in all the circus acts the media has been blindly chasing, the Washington Post has quietly been doing a bang-up job digging into the namesake charity of Donald Trump. They've spent months and months combing through public records and phoning up hundreds of charities to discover the truths behind the Donald J. Trump Foundation scam. What they've found so far is pretty astounding, even if the entire rest of the media world has largely ignored it while chasing Trump's shiny distractions and eruptions.

The Post -- in the past week alone -- has published story after story after story after story after story on the Trump Foundation's shenanigans, and we can only hope some bright researcher puts these stories on Lester Holt's desk so he can brush up on the facts before the first presidential debate.

We have to thank the Washington Post for committing these acts of real journalism in the midst of the presidential campaign. Nobody else has bothered to track this stuff down, and now the only thing left to do is to ask Trump to his face about what has been uncovered. This would require television "journalists" to do their homework and boldly confront Trump, though, so we're not exactly holding our breath in anticipation of it happening.

Still, it gives us plenty of fodder for this week's talking points. Our theme today comes from Hillary Clinton. We had to scratch our heads a bit about the whole "baskets" thing, but we did appreciate her calling out the Trump campaign's deplorable appeal. So each of these is presented as a response that can be used any time the word "deplorable" pops up in a political conversation.


   Where's the $10,000,000, Donald?

Saying stuff is easy. Writing checks, not so easy, apparently.

"You know what's deplorable? Telling the public you've given 'tens of millions of dollars' to charity when you haven't even given your own namesake charity one thin dime in years. Or refusing to prove that you've given any money to charity at all. We've already seen Trump do this earlier in the campaign, when reporters began asking about the money Trump promised to donate to veterans -- and none of it had actually been donated. Donald Trump loves saying he'll donate to charity, but he rarely follows through with the actual money. And that's pretty deplorable."


   Political slush fund

This is the only one that is actually getting some attention from the rest of the media. But it needs to be hammered as many times as possible.

"You know what's deplorable? Using your own charity as a slush fund to make campaign donations to bribe an attorney general into not investigating your fraudulent university scam. That's truly deplorable."


   Lying about donations

This one is just straight-up lying. Lying about donations given to charity. So far, I don't think Trump has ever been asked about it by anyone.

"You know what else is deplorable? Telling the I.R.S. you've given money to charities when you didn't. The Washington Post has been digging through the Trump charity's financial statements, and has found multiple examples of false donation claims. Trump's paperwork says he gave a certain amount to a certain charity, but when the Post calls them up and asks them to verify, the charities say they've never received a penny from either Trump's foundation or Trump himself. That's not only deplorable, it also could be tax fraud."


   It's yuuuuge!

This one has been picked up, not by journalists, but by late-night comedians. Hey, it's a start, we suppose.

"You know what's really deplorable? Paying $20,000 to a charity to buy a six-foot painting of yourself, that you then hang in the boardroom of one of your golf courses. That even reaches beyond deplorable into downright narcissism, folks."


   Birtherism non-apology

Trump tried to weasel his way out of leading the birther movement today. Without apologizing, and bizarrely blaming Clinton for it all.

"You know what's deplorable? Spending years championing a conspiracy theory that America's first black president wasn't born in the United States, based on absolutely nothing. Then refusing for an entire year to dispute your birtherism on the campaign trail. And when you are finally forced to admit you were wrong, refusing to apologize for it and blaming someone else for your deplorable behavior."


   The KKK is deplorable, Mike

Trump's running mate refuses to say mean things about a former wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. There's a word for that, Mike.

"You know who is deplorable? David Duke, former Klan leader, is deplorable. It's not even all that close a call, really, which is why it is astounding that Mike Pence couldn't bring himself to say it. Not only is David Duke deplorable, but not clearly saying so is also pretty deplorable."


   Gas chamber jokes are...

Donald Trump Junior made a jaw-dropping reference to "gas chambers" the other day. Now he says he didn't mean what everyone thinks he meant by it. Because, apparently, nobody in the Trump family ever apologizes for anything.

"You know what's deplorable? Making jokes about the Holocaust. That is unbelievably deplorable. And despicable, just for good measure."


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