President Donald Trump took time – in the midst of announcing his administration’s long-awaited but likely-to-fail plan for Middle East peace – to praise his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“That was very impressive,” Trump told Pompeo. “That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you yesterday. I think you did a good job on her, actually.” (And, yes, people laughed.)
What Trump was referring to was the decision by Pompeo’s State Department to ban an NPR reporter from an upcoming trip to the United Kingdom and Ukraine, among other countries. That ban, which State has yet to explain, came just days after a decidedly contentious interview between Pompeo and NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly in which Pompeo grew angry when Kelly asked about Ukraine and its role in the current impeachment trial of Trump. According to Kelly, Pompeo challenged her to find Ukraine on a map, which she did. In a statement from Pompeo that followed the incident, the secretary insisted that Kelly had pointed to Bangladesh.
That – yelling at a reporter and demanding she find a foreign country on a map – is what Trump called “very impressive” and praised Pompeo for doing “a good job on her, actually.”
Now, go to what might seem like an unrelated tweet from Trump on Tuesday morning:
“Really pathetic how @FoxNews is trying to be so politically correct by loading the airwaves with Democrats like Chris Van Hollen, the no name Senator from Maryland. He has been on forever playing up the Impeachment Hoax. So, what the hell has happened to @FoxNews. Only I know! Chris Wallace and others should be on Fake News CNN or MSDNC. How’s Shep Smith doing? Watch, this will be the beginning of the end for Fox, just like the other two which are dying in the ratings. Social Media is great!”
Here’s why the praise of Pompeo and the Trump tweet are actually more tied to each other than you might think: They both reflect Trump’s view of how the media works, how it should work and how reporters should be treated.
Trump’s outrage over the fact that Fox News had a Democratic senator on is based on the belief that the network should never have anyone on air who disagrees with him. That it is, effectively, state TV. And in Trump’s defense, he has lots and lots of reasons to believe that Fox News would never dare to criticize him. Among those reasons: Sean Hannity, “Fox & Friends,” Lou Dobbs, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Fox News has built its empire by fueling Trump’s rise and then keeping it afloat (and prospering) in the eyes of conservative voters by offering almost unanimous support and justification of what he says and does.
Trump takes that stance for granted because he fundamentally misunderstands – whether purposely or not – the role the media plays in a healthy democracy. It’s not unpatriotic or biased for the media to ask hard questions of Trump and his senior officials. It’s actually the essence of patriotism – holding power, of both parties, to account.
Which brings me back to Pompeo, Kelly and Trump. That Pompeo treated a reporter so shabbily for simply asking relevant questions – and then challenged her to what amounts to a geography bee – is a function of Trump’s deeply flawed view of journalism. Pompeo only acts like he acted with Kelly if he knows that he is unlikely to face any blowback from his superiors. And, on cue, not only did Trump not scold Pompeo for his treatment of Kelly, he praised him! In the middle of announcing a Middle East peace plan!
If you applaud – or laugh – at all of this, ask yourself one question: Has there ever been, in world history, a country that got freer, fairer or more transparent when the independent media was denigrated or destroyed entirely? Yeah, no.