The sniping between the Trump White House and CNN took a decidedly cartoonish turn Tuesday – and, perhaps, typically the White House got its facts wrong.
Following a 35-minute dialogue between CNN "New Day" co-host Chris Cuomo and combatively garrulous Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, Cuomo co-host Alysin Camerota took on Sebastian Gorka, a former longtime Fox News contributor who's taken his strong conservative views on combating terrorism into a White House national security posting.
The opening of a 16-minute session involved the apparent routing of ISIS from Mosul, Iraq and a de facto victory lap the White House took via Gorka, along the way badmouthing Obama administration military tactics.
"Can I finish my sentence?" he interjected early in the dialogue as he stood on the White House lawn, a hint of the rhetorical combat to come.
The clearly preferred inquiry for CNN involved a topic that is now dominating its coverage: the belated admission by Donald Trump Jr. that he met with a Russian lawyer under the pretenses of getting negative information on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Along with MSNBC, it covered little else Tuesday.
Gorka argued that the meeting was benign and had ramifications, as Conway had asserted the day before. But he kept turning the discussion to what he deems Clinton campaign – indeed, Clinton family – ethical, even allegedly criminal miscues, taking shots also at former President Bill Clinton.
As the interview spiraled downward with predictable theatricality, Gorka unloaded on CNN with what surely was not an extemporaneous assertion: namely referring to how "the amount of time you spend in desperation on a topic that has plummeted you to 13th place in viewership ranking across America. I mean more people watch Nick At Nite cartoons than CNN today."
The Gorka reference on ratings would appear to be parroting those found last week in an anti-CNN story on a conservative site, The Federalist, last week.
They are based on the week of June 26 (ratings weeks begin on Mondays) and based on total viewers. It is also just based on a primetime average, which is for sure an important time period. And it is just among cable networks, not broadcast outlets.
Thus it is accurate, if only one snapshot, and clearly chosen to bash CNN. It didn't delve into other metrics that might have looked different, such as adults 25-54, a key group for advertisers, or total day ratings, as opposed to just primetime.
But he did also appear to conflate Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite. The latter offers more teen and adult primetime fare such as "The Fresh Prince of Belair," "Friends" and "Full House," not the cartoons during the day on Nickelodeon to which Gorka was perhaps alluding in what he seemed to relish as a damning counterattack.
"More people are interested in cartoons than CNN," he repeated. As belittling as that sounds, it would not be any dramatic ratings revelation if Nickelodeon, which does show cartoons in the morning and afternoon, did surpass cable news channels during those time slots
The superficial comparison aside, the interview wound up with a somewhat forced mutual thanks between interviewer and interviewee. A rather sharp epilogue followed, however.
Camerota and co-host Cuomo did a quickie after-action analysis in which Cuomo alluded to a graphic used frequently all morning by CNN and about which Gorka had been asked. It showed seven Trump allies who had meetings with Russians that had been only belatedly disclosed.
"Just for the record," said Cuomo, "the question was (if) these seven people had a duty under law to report these meetings. His answer is 'ok, you have seven,' then he moved on to Hillary Clinton."
"He had no answer," said the acerbic Cuomo, who then rather condescendingly brought up Gorka's accent, (he was born in London to Hungarian parents).
"Has a good accent, a good delivery but no...They had a duty to report."