This NYTimes Reporter’s Tweet Praising a Trump Photo-Op is Actually Repellent

Politics Features Donald Trump
This NYTimes Reporter’s Tweet Praising a Trump Photo-Op is Actually Repellent

Several weeks in to what can feel like an overwhelming onslaught of scandals, political gaffes and outright nonsense pouring from the White House, it appears mainstream news outlets are finally getting tired of perpetually reporting on such massive stories. But rather than digging in and continuing to hold the Trump administration responsible during a tumultuous time, several reporters are reverting to manufactured emotional content.

Yesterday, Maggie Haberman— White House correspondent for The New York Times as well as a CNN analyst—posted this pointless tweet:

What does this entirely unprovable “fact” have to do with anything? Are Trump detractors actually thrilled that the president successfully avoided punching a hole in the West Wall or scribbling a racial slur on its surface? Are we at a place politically where opinions of a tragically-inept presidency rise and fall based on the ability to appear vaguely solemn? How exactly does this “powerful” image add up to a successful international trip in the face of profound cultural misunderstandings like telling a room full of Israelis they’re not in the Middle East or sauntering into Saudi Arabia blaming their entire national religion for terrorism? Or does it all become okay because the man was apparently sleepy?

There’s nothing to suggest the trip has gone particularly well, other than the fact that no wars have been started. Even if there were such evidence, surely it’d be more substantial than prevailing in an uneventful staring match with a stone wall.

The ridiculousness of the situation brings to mind a clip from 2009’s criminally-unknown In The Loop, in which a frequently tardy—and laughably unprepared—aide attempts to assuage his boss’s anger over a recent mishap by pointing out something the aide had succeeded in. Namely, the aide didn’t throw up. He was late, and horribly underprepared for the meeting, but at least he didn’t puke stomach bile all over the floor like a child burping up. Naturally, his boss remains furious. Skip ahead to 2:20 to see his reaction:

And why shouldn’t the boss stay angry at the inept aide? The ability to perform a basic function and not make a terrible situation worse is not cause for celebration. Praising Trump’s ability to stand silently touching a wall is akin to breathlessly congratulating an NFL quarterback on successfully managing to lace up his cleats. Sure, the ability to do so is important to the job, but it’s also something anybody over the age of six should be able to perform with some level of competency. The quarterback shouldn’t be judged on his well-tied cleats, he should be judged on whether he can throw the ball, win games and elevate the people around him. He’s supposed to be a leader—a step above those he’s responsible for. His management of basic responsibilities should be a given.

Reporters like Haberman inexplicably appear enthralled by such superficiality at the expense of everything else the president has been involved with. Responses to Haberman’s tweet show that not everybody is on board with this sort of cosmetic reporting.

In a similar vein, Washington Post writer Kathleen Parker recently wrote a positive opinion piece about Melania and Ivanka Trump’s womanly presence in Saudi Arabia. Parker did call Trump out on a few of his shortcomings, but she skipped right over things like mishandling of classified information to instead speak to how silly Trump looked handling orbs and giving out handshakes. Is that what Americans should be most upset about? An orb?

Parker concludes her piece by explaining all the good Melania and Ivanka are doing for Saudi women merely by looking beautiful and… wearing nice clothes? “Wordlessly,” Parker emphasizes, without a hint of irony, “they projected strength, intelligence, grace — and a timeless wisdom that all women share.” What sorts of timeless wisdom might that be? The wisdom that women are best utilized as attractive set pieces for the men in power? There’s not much else to be conveyed without the use of words.

Given the scenario presented, surely any woman with a decent clothing budget could have achieved the same results. Results, by the way, which are apparently: “You can be sure [Muslim women] were studying — and appreciating — Melania and Ivanka. .?.?. They represented the American woman with appropriateness, elegance and style.” Well, great. Looks like Trump and his attractive wife and daughter actually managed to bring peace to the region after all. Because of their “success,” Parker wishes to “Propose a toast to America’s first ladies for showing the world that despite our coarse, ham-fisted president, we have not completely forsaken class.” The world may burn around us, but as long as we look good and keep our mouths shut, we’ll be okay.

We’re evidently reaching a place in politics where looking the part isn’t just half the battle, it’s how you win the entire war. Our standards have been so reduced by a president who seeks out controversy as fervently as he avoids exercise reporters seem unable to sift through what actually matters. At this crucial time in American politics, we need mainstream reporters to continue to dig for perspective and not allow superficial improvements to temporarily distract from the important issues at hand. Otherwise mainstream news outlets will slide dangerously close to becoming what Trump has claimed they are all along.


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