November 15, 2023

This week, one of the big media stories ֱ one I wrote about in Tuesdayֱs newsletter ֱ is how news organizations are becoming more bold and responsible when it comes to calling out Donald Trumpֱs dangerous words. For example, many pointed to Trumpֱs jaw-dropping Veterans Day speech when he promised to ֱroot out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections.ֱ

Places such as how words such as ֱverminֱ echoed dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

News outlets can continue to call out Trumpֱs disturbing language and reckless lies ֱ and more are doing so every day in stronger and stronger terms ֱ but does it mean anything if fellow Republicans and Trump supporters continue to support Trump? Or, at the very least, make excuses for his behavior?

The media needs to do an even more vigilant job in questioning Trumpֱs fellow Republicans and those who actually have influence over the party, its members and its supporters.

On Sundayֱs ֱMeet the Press,ֱ moderator Kristen Welker confronted Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel about Trumpֱs pledge of vengeance against his enemies should he be elected president in 2024. Welker asked, ֱDoes that essentially make the Republican Party take a stance of ֱthe Republican Party stands for revenge?’ What do you think of that message?ֱ

McDaniel skirted around the question, telling Welker, ֱIֱm not going to get involved in rhetoric thatֱs happening during a contested campaign for our presidential nominee.ֱ

Pressed further about Trumpֱs Veterans Day speech, McDaniel said, ֱAgain, I am not going to comment on candidates and their campaign messaging. I will say this, I know President Trump supports the veterans, our whole party supports our veterans. And I do think weֱre at a very serious moment in our country.ֱ

An irresponsible answer to a responsible question.

Then, take Tuesday. New Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, currently one of the most powerful members of the Republican Party, was grilled on CNBCֱs ֱSquawk Boxֱ about Trumpֱs continued denials that he lost the 2020 presidential election. When asked about it by co-host Joe Kernen, Johnson ֱ disappointingly, but not surprisingly ֱ defended Trump.

Kernen asked, ֱIf he did know that he lost the election, was trying to stay, then thatֱs a dangerous precedent to return someone to office that wasnֱt going to leave office, even if he knew for a fact that he had. So I guess you would argue that he really believed at that point, and maybe he still believes that he won the election?ֱ

Johnson responded by saying, ֱI take him at his word. I do believe that he believes that. Remember, I was one of his lawyers. I worked on the impeachment defense team twice in the House to defend his positions. And I know how he thinks. And heֱs convinced that because of all the irregularities and everything else, that he was still entitled to that.ֱ

When pressed even further by ֱSquawk Boxֱ co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin, Johnson said, ֱListen, there are a lot of people in Washington whoֱs saying things that are not accurate all the time. Everybody does. Weֱre all human. But Iֱll say this about President Trump with regard to that election, and what he believes about that, that is deep in his heart. I mean, Iֱve talked to him personally about it. Many of us have. And over the years, youֱve heard him say repeatedly over and over the same refrain that he just felt like he was cheated in that election. And I think thatֱs a core conviction of his. And when I say we should take him at his word on that, he believes it.ֱ

That led media journalist and former CNN host , ֱThis is how the NETWORK OF LIES operates ֱ all feelings, no facts.ֱ (Stelterֱs latest book about Fox News and Donald Trump ֱ ֱ came out Tuesday.)

As much as itֱs critical to call out Trumpֱs terrifying language, which conjures up the likes of Hitler, itֱs just as critical for journalists to ask Republican Party leaders and members what they think about it.

The media calling out Trump can be, at times, a bit performative ֱ as if they are talking in their own media echo chamber. News media blast away at Trumpֱs words not only because they are harmful, but to show other media that theyֱre doing the right thing. And media observers like yours truly praise those outlets for doing the right thing.

Thatֱs not to say the media shouldnֱt keep doing it. Quite the opposite. They should hammer home the dangers Trump presents. But you have to also wonder if the audiences many media outlets are talking to arenֱt already on board with the idea that Trump poses a great threat.

Thatֱs why itֱs important to have moments like Welker asking hard questions of the RNC chairwoman and CNBC asking hard questions of the speaker of the House.

Itֱs also important to call out the hypocrisy of some politicians and their willingness to move the goalposts.

For example, during that interview on ֱSquawk Box,ֱ Johnson said, ֱI’m all in for President Trump. I expect heֱll be our nominee. He’s going to win it and we have to make (President Joe) Biden a one-term president.ֱ

Yet that in 2015, Johnson wrote a lengthy Facebook post that said, ֱThe thing about Donald Trump is that he lacks the character and the moral center we desperately need again in the White House.ֱ

When challenged by a reader of the post defending Trump, Johnson wrote, ֱI am afraid he would break more things than he fixes. He is a hot head by nature, and that is a dangerous trait to have in a Commander in Chief.ֱ He added, ֱI just donֱt think he has the demeanor to be President.ֱ

When asked about this by the Times, Johnson said, ֱDuring his 2016 campaign, President Trump quickly won me and millions of my fellow Republicans over. When I got to know him personally shortly after we both arrived in Washington in 2017, I grew to appreciate the person that he is and the qualities about him that made him the extraordinary president that he was.ֱ

Johnson added, ֱSince we met, we have always had a very good and friendly relationship. The president and I enjoy working together, and I look forward to doing so again when he returns to the White House.ֱ

While Johnsonֱs answers were disappointing, good for the Times for at least asking.

(Hat tip to of Johnsonֱs interview on CNBC.)

Exchange of the day

More than a dozen times, former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was asked on TV by British talk show host Piers Morgan if Hamas was a terrorist group. Corbyn never said yes or no. , which includes video of the contentious on-air exchange between Morgan and Corbyn.

Iֱm typically not a fan of Morgan overall, but he is excellent here in continually pressing Corbyn to give a direct answer to a direct and important question.

Actually ֱ

California Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy, shown here last month. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)

The Corbyn-Morgan exchange might not have even been the second most heated exchange of the day.

What in the world was going on in Washington on Tuesday?

First, that she was interviewing Tennessee Republican Congressman Tim Burchett when fellow Republican Kevin McCarthy, the former House speaker from California, walked by. Grisales said McCarthy ֱshovedֱ Burchett. Later, in an astonishing interview with CNNֱs Manu Raju, Burchett said McCarthy ֱelbowedֱ him.

, Burchett called McCarthy a ֱbully,ֱ adding, ֱHe’s like the guy who throws a rock over the fence when he’s a kid and runs home and hides behind his momma’s skirt.ֱ

Burchett claimed McCarthy was ֱbitterֱ because Burchett voted to oust McCarthy as speaker of the House.

Meanwhile, McCarthy later told CNN. ֱI didnֱt shove or elbow him. Itֱs a tight hallway.ֱ And then later, to a group of reporters, McCarthy said, ֱIf I hit somebody, they would know it. If I kidney punched someone, they would be on the ground.ֱ

CNN analyst and former Obama adviser , ֱSeriously, what the hell is this? It’s not high school. It’s the U.S. Congress.ֱ

Weֱre not done. There was then on Tuesday: At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma and the president of the Teamsters union, Sean O’Brien, both stood up and acted like they wanted to fight one another.

Iֱm not making this up. This is what they said:

Mullin: ֱYou want to run your mouth? We can be two consenting adults. We can finish it here.ֱ

OֱBrien: ֱOK, thatֱs fine, perfect.ֱ

Mullin: ֱYou want to do it now?ֱ

OֱBrien: ֱIֱd love to do it right now.ֱ

Mullin: ֱThen stand your butt up then.ֱ

OֱBrien: ֱYou stand your butt up.ֱ

They both stood and thatֱs when Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, seemed almost incredulous, telling Mullin, ֱStop it! No, no, sit down! You know, youֱre a United States senator.ֱ

Sandersֱ admonishment reminded me of the , ֱDr. Strangeloveֱ: ֱGentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!ֱ

CBS Newsֱ Ed OֱKeefe thought of another film, , ֱWe might just need to start calling Capitol Hill ֱFight Club.ֱֱ

Speaking of which ֱ

CNNֱs Jake Tapper with excellent work calling out OֱBrien for his role in the silly dustup with Mullin. Tapper had OֱBrien on Tuesdayֱs ֱThe Leadֱ where he asked OֱBrien about what happened.

OֱBrien said of Mullin, ֱֱ what went through my mind was, you’re one of 100 of the most powerful people in the country, and you’re acting like a 12-year-old in a schoolyard because you didn’t get your way.ֱ

But Tapper fired back, ֱOK, but can I say, youֱre tweeting like a 12-year-old. I mean, your tweets were ֱ youֱre not a United States senator, OK? And I get that your tweeting is not the same thing as calling somebody out during a Senate hearing. But: ֱYou know where to find me. Any place, anytime cowboy.ֱ Youֱre making fun of him for not being the tallest senator. I mean, you represent 1.3 million workers. ֱ Do you really think that that is best serving, best representing the members of the Teamsters union?ֱ

OֱBrien answered, ֱHis story is compelling, but inaccurate. And in a hearing in March, he started the whole thing by coming into a hearing, looking at us and basically saying to me, ֱIֱm not afraid of physical confrontation. As a matter of fact, I welcome it.ֱ So thatֱs what perpetuated the whole incident. Never knew the man in my life, never met him. I was testifying in my first Senate hearing, and that was his first introduction to me.ֱ

Welkerֱs month

NBC Newsֱ Kristen Welker. (Courtesy: NBC News)

It has been quite the month so far for NBC Newsֱ Kristen Welker.

On Nov 5, she did a newsworthy interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Three days later, on Nov. 8, she was one of the moderators for the third Republican presidential debate. This past Sunday on ֱMeet the Press,ֱ Welker had a lengthy, pull-no-punches interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It also should be noted that this past Sundayֱs ֱMeet the Pressֱ drew 4.7 million views across all its platforms. That was a nearly 50% increase over the week prior. The average viewership of 2.415 million viewers made it the most-watched Sunday news show of the week. (But to note: ֱFace the Nationֱsֱ TV numbers come from its first half hour because not all affiliates carry the second half of the show.)

Media tidbits

Hot type

In 2022, Stanford University star soccer goalkeeper Katie Meyer died by suicide. Sports Illustratedֱs Greg Bishop writes,

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Tom Jones is ֱֱs senior media writer for ֱ.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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