BALTIMORE – From the beginning, Donald Trump has understood the sheer theatricality of the American presidency better than anybody. After all, TV drama created him. You’d think the reporters who cover him would understand this by now, but maybe they don’t.
They let him get away with so much. He stands there, at his daily briefings, and floats the most outrageous baloney and bluster, and there’s not a reporter in the room bold enough to tell him, in real-time, “Mr. President, that’s just not the truth.”
Great theater is called for. After all, it was the TV theatricality on “The Apprentice” that created Trump’s national persona, which made him look like a brilliant billionaire businessman instead of a loser crawling out from a series of bankruptcies no one had yet heard about.
More theater’s what we need now – some powerful confrontations revealing to millions of viewers the truth.
The White House press corps should have learned by now that it’s not enough to ask even a smart, pointed question and then let this president ramble, to let him distract and distort and lie. He has to be interrupted in mid-lie.
“Respectfully, Mr. President…”
That’s how you start off, “respectfully,” so nobody claims you’re out of line and willfully changes the subject.
“Respectfully, Mr. President, but for the last two months you’ve been telling us the exact opposite of what you’re telling us today.”
The coronavirus is “just like the flu,” he assured us for weeks, utterly denying what the experts were telling him behind the scenes.
Finally, as the body count mounted and the lie became more obvious: “It’s not like the flu,” Trump admitted. “It’s vicious.”
“Then why did you say those things, Mr. President, since the scientists were telling you the truth back back in early January?”
Or, how about this?
“It’s a Democratic hoax,” Trump kept calling the coronavirus, even though the same experts were informing him otherwise.
And now, as the coronavirus deaths exceed all of the war casualties in Korea and Vietnam combined: “I’ve always known this is a real pandemic,” Trump said. “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
“But, Mr. President, if you knew this, then why were you calling it a Democratic hoax?”
You White House reporters: He’s not King Trump, he’s President Trump. There’s no divine right of kings at play here, only people’s right to protect themselves against this man’s manifold lies and the virus that now takes lives by the thousands.
You’re allowed to defend the truth.
Will Trump stand for such questioning? Of course not. He’ll blame the “crooked media” in general. He’ll make up something nasty about the reporter who’s questioning him, whose name he doesn’t even know. He’ll bluster and boast and then he’ll call on some other reporter, who’s got his own question to ask.
But that just plays into Trump’s hands. The next reporter ought to say, “I’d like to ask the same question.” And, if Trump tries to go to yet another reporter, this one ought to pursue the same damned question.
If Trump dodges one reporter after another, he does it at his own risk. The cameras are running, the cable news programs are watching, and so is America. And those who miss the undressing will see it, over and over again, as the scene is replayed through the day and night.
They’ll even see it over at Fox News.
See, that’s part of the problem. Trump obliterates the truth, but then Fox edits out all the distortions and the contradictions and the exaggerations. Every major media outlet attempts to report at least some semblance of the truth about Trump, while Fox does its broadcasts straight out of Trump’s back pocket.
They even supply Fox with contributors. As Media Matters reported the other day, “Members of President Trump’s coronavirus task force have overwhelmingly appeared on Fox News to discuss the virus, while largely shunning CNN and MSNBC.
“According to Media Matters’ internal database…from Jan. 29 through March 27, task force members appeared 109 times on weekday cable news programs…and 82 have been on Fox News, 22 on CNN, and just 5 on MSNBC.” Of the entire coronavirus task force, only Dr. Anthony Fauci has gone on MSNBC.
What’s the result of all this? Well, here’s a Pew poll conducted last week, asking if people think Trump is doing an “excellent job” on the coronavirus epidemic.
Over and over and over, the results are pitifully low – except on Fox.
For readers of the New York Times, 1 percent think he’s doing an “excellent” job. National Public Radio, 2 percent, the same 2 percent as MSNBC. CNN, 7 percent. ABC-TV, 14 percent. NBC, 15 percent. CBS, 24 percent.
Fox viewers, 63 percent.
Does anyone imagine that only Fox is delivering the truth – and every other major media outlet is getting it wrong?
There’s a way to level out such dramatic distinctions. Force this president to answer the tough questions in front of the whole country – one tough question at a time – or show everyone, in real time, how he runs from the truth.
Feature photo: Screenshot from YouTube
Michael Olesker, columnist for the News American, Baltimore Sun, and Baltimore Examiner has spent a quarter of a century writing about the city he loves.He is the author of several books, including Michael Olesker’s Baltimore: If You Live Here, You’re Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s, all published by Johns Hopkins Press.