Just deserts, or a demonstration of unpresidential thin skin? After blasting CNN for reporting unsubstantiated claims last night that descended into a faceplant by this morning, Jim Acosta repeatedly demanded some equal time at Donald Trump’s press conference. The president-elect rained on his parade, so to speak:
WATCH: CNN correspondent demands to question Pres.-elect Trump after Trump criticizes CNN; Trump refuses. https://t.co/M9Lkzuo8IY
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) January 11, 2017
President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday refused to take a question from a CNN reporter during his press conference, berating the network for “fake news.”
“Your organization is terrible,” Trump told CNN’s Jim Acosta when he tried to ask a question.
“You’re attacking us, can you give us a question?” Acosta replied.
“Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news,” Trump responded, before calling on a reporter from Breitbart.
Yeah, that’ll leave a mark, but it’s mostly self-inflicted. CNN bit on a non-story in almost the worst possible way, and Buzzfeed followed up by actually delivering the worst possible way. Rather than wait for more information, both published a story based on unsubstantiated oppo research that was misunderstood as having the imprimatur of US intelligence agencies. Instead, it turned out that the agencies hadn’t actually briefed either Trump or Barack Obama on the salacious rumors, but planned to show it as an example of disinformation campaigns. NBC finally got it right more than twelve hours later, which left both CNN and Buzzfeed with egg on their collective faces.
The estimable Jake Tapper pushed back at Trump’s attack, and laid most of the blame on Buzzfeed. Tapper says that critics have conflated their initial report with Buzzfeed’s and that theirs was much more responsible:
“When Mr. Trump went after our own Jim Acosta, saying he’s ‘fake news’ and he isn’t going to call for him, what I suspect we are seeing here an an attempt to discredit legitimate, responsible attempts to report on this incoming administration with irresponsible journalism that hurts us all and the media, going forward, should keep that in mind,” Tapper stated, referring to Trump’s refusal to call on a CNN reporter at the event.
Then, he turned to Buzzfeed itself, calling the organization’s choice to put “uncorroborated information” online “irresponsible” for the second time today.
“That’s why we did not publish it and why we did not detail any specifics from it, because it was uncorroborated and that’s not what we do,” he said carefully. “We’re in the business of sussing out what is true and what is false.”
Tapper’s not entirely incorrect here; CNN was correct in that intel agencies have been investigating these reports, and that so far they came up empty. However, their initial report also said that the two-page annex cited intelligence that Trump surrogates were meeting with Russian agents, including Michael Cohen — an allegation that has been roundly debunked. CNN had also reported that intelligence officials claimed that Russian agents claimed to have damaging personal and financial information on Trump, when it appears now that the purpose of that part of the briefing was to impress upon Trump their ability to gin up that kind of “disinformation.” NBC’s follow-up pertains specifically to that two-page annex that formed the core of CNN’s report:
A senior U.S. intelligence official with knowledge of the preparation for the meeting with Trump told NBC News that the president-elect was not briefed on the so-called two-page addendum to the dossier originally generated as part of anti-Trump Republican opposition research.
Multiple officials say that the summary was included in the material prepared for the briefers, but the senior official told NBC News that the briefing was oral and no actual documents were handed to the Trump team.
“Intel and law enforcement officials agree that none of the investigations have found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government period,” the senior official said.
According to the official, the two-page summary about the unsubstantiated material made available to the briefers was to provide context, should they need it, to draw the distinction for Trump between analyzed intelligence and unvetted “disinformation.”
That certainly looks as though it discredits the CNN report too, which might have been avoided with a little more researching to “suss out” truth from fiction — or at least discovering the crucial context of the lesson on “disinformation,” which puts an ironic twist on the ending of this episode. At any rate, Tapper’s certainly correct in stating that Buzzfeed’s journalistic sins were far worse, but there’s still an element of motes, beams, and eyes going on here.
All that said, was Trump out of line for freezing out Acosta and ripping CNN during the presser? Hey, thin skin has been the fashion at the White House since Anita Dunn fired up the War On Fox in 2009, but we complained about that at the time too — and for that matter, so did Jake Tapper, who was at ABC at the time. It’s difficult to blame Trump for complaining about CNN when their report turned out to be this wrong. Acosta’s repeated attempts to leverage that into a debate (presumably) was understandable, but so was Trump’s frustration at it. Had Acosta just waited for the next turn to ask a question, it’s far from clear that Trump would have thought to reject Acosta. This looks like one stunt answering another.
Worry not, however. Let’s just say it’s this kind of exchange that’s going to bolster everyone’s ratings over the next four years — bigly. Trust me. They’ll be tremendous.
Update: I had always assumed the phrase was “just desserts” because of its pronunciation. However, it’s properly “just deserts” with the same pronunciation, as Dictionary.com explains here. I’ve fixed it above, and thanks to Anarchohindu on Twitter for the correction.