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Trump dodged one of the key questions about Ukraine — so this reporter kept asking

Posted October 3, 2019 12:00 a.m. EDT
Updated October 3, 2019 12:05 a.m. EDT

— A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

At Wednesday's press conference with President Donald Trump, Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason showed how it should be done.

When Trump called on Mason, the reporter first asked about the president's use of the word "treason" to describe actions that are not treasonous. Then he saw an opening for a follow-up: "Mr. President, can you just make clear, right here: What do you or what did you want President Zelensky to do with regard to Joe and Hunter Biden?"

Trump talked and talked, but did not answer the key question about his communications with the Ukranian president, now the subject of a formal impeachment inquiry. So what did Mason do? He repeated his question several times.

"I've given you a long answer," Trump claimed, directing Mason to ask a question to the Finnish president instead.

Mason stood up for himself while Trump berated him. And journalists were pretty much unanimous in defending Mason afterward — notably, several correspondents and commentators on Fox said he asked a valid and important question. "The president dodged it," Fox's Brit Hume said.

CNN's Daniel Dale also praised Mason, tweeting that "it's pretty rare in these bright-spotlight settings that Trump is just asked the same basic question over and over and over as he tries to dodge."

Mason told me, matter-of-factly, "It was a legitimate question and he dodged it. It's our job to follow up in cases like that and that's what I did."

More reactions to Wednesday's wild presser

Ali Velshi immediately afterward on MSNBC: Trump was "lying to the American people and the world at a pace perhaps we haven't seen before." Karen Tumulty: "Is this real life?" Chris Cillizza: "This press conference is Trump at his most rage filled, vengeful and victimized." David Martosko: "He is spitting nails." Brian Karem: "That press conference was chaos in a blender set on puree." Shep Smith: "That level, I've never before seen." And John Harwood tweeted just one word: "Alarming."

"Even by his standards..."

CBS News W.H. correspondent Weija Jiang summed up Trump's bad day this way: "He became visibly angrier as the day went on, both inside the Oval Office and at a press conference. He refused to answer questions; spewed falsehoods; and scolded reporters, creating an awkward situation for a visiting head of state."

And WaPo's Aaron Blake nailed it in this piece: "The idea that President Trump has finally gone over the edge is an overwrought journalistic genre. Oftentimes, people simply forget all that has come before when they declare him to be particularly unwieldy or off the rails at a particular moment. And his opponents are far too anxious to find examples of Trump finally reaching a threshold that suggests he has completely thrown caution to the wind and may be just giving up. All of that said, it has been some week for Trump — even by his standards." Read on...

Parental advisory

Jake Tapper on "The Lead" Wednesday afternoon: "A parental advisory for you: In this block, I'm going to be quoting from things that the President of the United States has tweeted, so if you have kids in the room, you might want to mute the television." Then he quoted Trump's "bullshit" tweet.

CNN accurately quoted Trump's tweet, expletive included, throughout the day. I searched Fox and MSNBC transcripts and didn't see any instances of the expletive being used on those channels.

The broadcast networks, subject to rules enforced by Trump's FCC, said "bull" or "B.S." instead.

FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE

-- Stephen Colbert on Wednesday night's "Late Show:" Trump is "the most powerful victim in the world..." (Video via Twitter)

-- James Fallows restating a point he made a while back: "If you saw performance like current one by Trump, by anyone in any other responsible position, starting with 7-11 store manager and going to local-news anchor (or advanced-age relative), you would be talking quietly but urgently with supervisors about getting help..." (Twitter)

-- Joshua Green writes: "The Trump impeachment saga is really a story about the power of right-wing media and its most devoted consumer -- Trump..." (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Why did Trump think "Border Wars" was written by WaPo reporters?

NYT reporters Michael Shear and Julie Davis had the scoop about Trump proposing shooting migrants in the legs and erecting alligator-filled moats to deter illegal crossings. The Times published a preview of their new book "Border Wars" on Tuesday night.

When Trump was asked about the reporting on Wednesday, he said his "comms people" told him the book was by "Washington Post people." Trump: "I said, 'Well obviously it's fake because almost everything The Washington Post does is fake. It's a fake newspaper. It's owned by a rich guy for the purposes of giving him power in Washington. It's really, I mean, it's a lobbyist. I call it the lobbyist Washington Post for Amazon."

>> CNN's fact-check team notes that "The Post had nothing to do with the book or article."

>> Fox's David Asman embarrassed himself when he defended Trump on "Outnumbered," saying, "Focusing on the Washington Post ain't bad because, remember, they've been caught several times with news that didn't turn out to be true."

Fox's inconvenient bit of reporting

Oliver Darcy emails: While Trump and his allies laced into NYT (and, uh, WaPo) for reporting on Trump's extreme suggestions for slowing down migrants, it's worth noting that Fox itself confirmed a key aspect of NYT's story. "A source who was in the room at the time confirmed the conversation about shooting migrants in the legs to Fox News late Tuesday," Fox reporter Joseph Wulfsohn wrote.

That, however, didn't stop Fox personalities from backing the president. After Trump zinged the reporting, an "Outnumbered" panel questioned whether news organizations have reported on the White House accurately. You'd think the hosts would have used the opportunity to tout its own reporting and forcefully fact-check Trump...

FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO

-- FiveThirtyEight is now tracking impeachment polls. This is "an updating calculation of support for and opposition to impeachment, accounting for each poll's quality, recency, sample size and partisan lean, since Aug. 1, 2018..." (538)

-- Read more of Wednesday's "Reliable Sources" newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...

-- CNN's Zach Wolf: "The scandal is what Trump did on the call he admits is accurately transcribed. Trump wants the scandal to be everything else." (Twitter)

-- Four distinguished historians penned this Opinion column for CNN.com: "We are historians who have researched every president since George Washington, and we've never seen anything like this." Quite a sentence: "In the history of American foreign relations, we are unaware of any prior case — in 230 years — of a president asking a foreign leader to intervene in American domestic politics..." (CNN)

-- Recommended: CNN's newest newsletter, "Meanwhile in America," billed as a daily analysis of US politics for global readers, by Stephen Collinson and Caitlin Hu. Sign up here... (CNN)

Fox's new election branding: "Democracy 2020"

"America's Election Headquarters" is out. "Democracy 2020" is in.

AdWeek's Jason Lynch writes: "No Fox News personalities appear in the network's new 'It's In Your Hands' marketing campaign, which instead focuses on Americans and the choice they will be making in next year's election."

Fox News Media marketing EVP Jason Klarman says the ads are about "opening the aperture and welcoming more people in." He adds: "There's 30% of the people who are never going to stop watching us, there are 30% of the people who are never going to watch us, and then there's everybody else in the middle. And I think what Democracy 2020 says is we are open for business on all fronts."

"Why lefties should watch Fox News"

"Forget 'Succession' — as we descend into the hell pit of impeachment and a presidential election, there is no more engaging and consequential family drama on television right now than the one happening every day on Fox News," NYT opinion columnist Farhad Manjoo writes.

While Manjoo is coming at this from a Fox-hating perspective, he hits on several of the reasons why I'm writing a book about Fox in the Trump age. Understanding this relationship is key to understanding America right now...

"Fox News emerges as Trump's firewall"

That's the headline on Michael Calderone's latest for Politico. "As Fox vows to cover impeachment in a rigorous and fair-minded way in its news programming, if not opinion shows, the network is becoming a kind of Rorschach test for cracks in the president's media firewall," he writes. And/but so far, Fox "is hewing closely to the White House line. Pro-Trump voices dominate the conversation, especially in the morning and evening hours, though several of the network's anchors and analysts have scrutinized claims by the president and his allies that would likely go unchecked — or get endorsed by — by supportive hosts and guests..."

Oliver sums up the situation in a single tweet

Darcy tweeted just now: "Fox prime is not only dishonest, it's a mirror image of real world. Biden is guilty of potential crimes, Trump is innocent of all wrongdoing. Democrats are the chief liars, Trump is the truth teller. Mainstream media spreads misinformation, pro-Trump media [tells] the truth. Etc, etc."

This messaging lines up with Trump's naturally. As Chris Cuomo said Wednesday night, "Now we know the defense for this president: It isn't me, it is Biden. It isn't me, it's Schiff. It isn't me, it's the Democrats."

Fact-checking Trump's remarks in real-time

Oliver Darcy emails: Trump knows that cable news networks air the remarks he makes during pool sprays unfiltered to millions. To that end, he almost always uses the opportunity to spread lies and misinformation. CNN was ready for that on Wednesday. As Trump peddled misinformation about the whistleblower, CNN fact-checked him in real-time with a "Facts First" box on the screen.

But why is CNN the only network doing this? Isn't it time that all cable news networks put up the relevant facts when airing Trump's raw remarks to their audiences? Trump's lies are often predictable, given that he recycles and repeats the same falsehoods over and over again. That should make it quite easy for networks to prepare fact-checks in advance of airing his remarks...

More skirmishes in right-wing media

One more item from Oliver Darcy: Trump's Ukraine scandal has caused a handful of skirmishes to break out in right-wing media. Fox opinion hosts are clashing with its news anchors. The Gateway Pundit is calling out the Drudge Report.

And on Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh joined the fray and ripped into Fox. The king of conservative talk radio blasted the network, claiming that people critical of Trump are "all over" its airwaves. "You know, Fox really ought to change the name of the network from the Fox News Channel to the Fox Never Trumper Network," Limbaugh said. The criticism was similar to the way Trump has gone after the network in the last few months.

Limbaugh is a regular guest on Fox. I checked in with network spokespeople to see if they had any response to his comments. I didn't receive a reply...

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