May 12, 2017

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It’s unclear where to start with President Trump’s interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that left the White House second-string spokesperson on a precipice better associated with the Flying Wallendas.

“Trump’s account flatly contradicts the White House’s initial account of how the president arrived at his decision, undercutting public denials by his aides that the move was influenced in any way by his growing fury with the ongoing Russia probe.” (The Washington Post)

The interview prompted unpaid Trump courtesan Sean Hannity to double down about “mainstream media lies,” “Trump derangement syndrome” and the “Clinton email server scandal” via a graphic that listed 15 federal laws that he said Hillary Clinton violated.

It all stemmed from a Holt interview whose oddest critic was bumbling Bob Beckel. He accused Holt of being a wuss as he faultlessly played the role of sincere but inept liberal piñata on Fox’s “The Five” (which has been a helter-skelter mess since its shift to primetime).

Nope. When it comes to wussin’ out, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lapped all contenders.

Drawing the short straw by subbing again for Spicer, she said that nobody was in the dark about the firing of FBI Director Jim Comey moments after admitting she was in the dark.

She’d talked to “countless” FBI agents but wouldn’t fork over a real number. She wouldn’t answer questions about lies told the day before about Comey. Her comments over 48 hours were quickly repackaged in unflattering ways and got more attention than her dad’s fleeting 2016 presidential campaign.

And both substance and style were off as she sought to defend a mercurial boss.

“Like Spicer, she suffers from a lack of direction,” says Bill Plante, the recently retired CBS White House mainstay. “How can she know how to put lipstick on the pig if she doesn’t know what Trump’s thinking? Makes for an awkward and unhelpful performance.”

But she was game and at least received divine assurance from an estimable secular source.

“Hey, she only has to satisfy an audience of one,” says Mike McCurry, the former Clinton-era spokesman who directs the Center for Public Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary.

“The rest of us, the press in the room and the American public, don’t appear to matter that much,” he said. “So she did fine.”

Oh, well, those theologians do have more empathy than the rest of us. Pax vobiscum, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Tweeting Rosie O’Donnell

His Twitter feud with the comedian continues. Meanwhile, “Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey believes that it’s ‘important’ that President Donald Trump continues to tweet.” (Recode)

It sounds something like Warren Buffett urging him to ride the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), perhaps vaulting into one of those increasingly half-empty coal cars that Trump promises to fill with all those West Virginia jobs.

Lead of the morning

From Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle on the Houston Rockets elimination at home by the San Antonio Spurs:

“The Rockets did not just lose. That would have been better. This was far more inglorious, far more distasteful. This will be much more difficult to forget.”

“They surrendered. They were hit, and crumbled like an old lawn chair. They were not just whipped; they were humiliated, coming within one point of the worst postseason loss in franchise history.” (Chronicle)

Fox envy?

“Sits down for a long time with Lester Holt (of NBC), a network that has not given him a fair shake almost from day one,” said “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade this morning. “It always astounded me in big moments he chooses to go with the people that have not been…if you watch five minutes of the network…they don’t deserve the president’s quality time.”

Poor guy. Has not Kilmeade connected the dots to discern Trump’s craving for legitimacy among the “mainstream media” that Fox so gratuitously (and hypocritically) derides as part of its very business model?

Spicer’s duty

He’s serving his Navy Reserve Duty in the press office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a topic of much discussion at the Pentagon, “where his temporary colleagues covertly snapped cellphone photos of the White House press secretary as he walked the halls and looked over the hot-food bar at a Pentagon restaurant.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“Military officers used to handling questions about North Korea missile tests and the fight against the Islamic State groused that their time is being eaten up by questions about their celebrity reservist. ‘I am answering more questions about him than I am about Syria or North Korea,’ said one military official.”

Fox’s refreshing side

Fox’s Shepard Smith’s back-and-forth with White House correspondent John Roberts Thursday underscored the refreshing curiosity of Smith’s mid-afternoon show.

Yes, there was Smith talking matter-of-factly of how Trump “insulted” Comey in the Holt interview. Fire Comey to undermine the Russia investigation? “That would be obstruction of justice.”

“There’s definitely been an evolution here, Shep,” Roberts conceded when it came to the reasons for booting Comey. And, he added, the “totality of information available” to the communications shop on Comey firing was not complete.

The morning babble

“The press wants to jump on us every day,” said “Fox & Friends” co-host Kilmeade, exhibiting the sense of victimization improbably rife at the No. 1 cable news network. It was his way of saying the White House shouldn’t have been taken aback by adverse press reaction to the Comey decision.

On CNN, “New Day” put together what co-host Chris Cuomo tagged a “mendacity montage” of conflicting statements by the White House on Comey. It was an apt counterpoint to Hannity last night compiling a montage of Democrats hammering Comey last fall and now waxing outraged over his dismissal (Sen. Charles Schumer is an especially egregious example).

“Morning Joe” on MSNBC did likewise with its own montage — does somebody owe Jon Stewart and his old producing colleagues on “The Daily Show” creative thanks? — that was particularly unflattering to Sanders and vice president Mike Pence. Then came co-host Mika Brzezinski in stern and acidic high dudgeon — and in the apparent self-appointed role as a pro bono programming consultant to CNN:

Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders, Sean Spicer, Mike Pence, now all in the same category, in the Kellyanne category: not credible, proved as a liar, made a fool.”

“Also note to CNN: I love CNN, but you’ve got to stop putting Kellyanne on the air. It’s politics porn. You’re just getting your little ratings crack. But it’s disgusting. Your hosts look pained when they interview her.”

That peroration did conclude with similar, if rather less histrionic analysis from the six White males found in on-air boxes around her. There wasn’t much diversity on any score.

A Facebook blast from Vienna

Even my late Viennese mom might have trouble defending an Austrian court ruling that Facebook “is required to stamp out locally defined hate speech… all over the globe.” (TechDirt)

Huh? “Not only will Facebook need to delete original posts and reposts, but it’s apparently supposed to track down anything that quotes the offending posts verbatim and delete those as well. Simply blocking them in Austria isn’t sufficient.”

Ach du lieber (oh my god).

Free story idea

“Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pressed White House counsel Don McGahn to correct what he felt was an inaccurate White House depiction of the events surrounding FBI Director James Comey’s firing, according to a person familiar with the conversation.” (The Wall Street Journal)

Following the Lester Holt interview, it’s clear Trump cynically used Rosenstein, a guy who had a good reputation. It’s pathetic. And Rosenstein wants to “correct the record?”

So he’s got a choice between resigning or do the Washington thing and rationalize the seductions of power. Whatever, somebody should compile a list of how many people in high government positions have actually quit out of a sense of honor.

A late Mother’s Day gift idea

“According to a study conducted through heartbeat measurement app Cardiogram and the University of California, San Francisco, the Apple Watch is 97 percent accurate in detecting the most common abnormal heart rhythm when paired with an AI-based algorithm.” (TechCrunch)

“Meet the Press” out,” Fox & Friends” in

There’s been a shakeout in Trump’s media consumption priorities. “‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Morning Joe’ are out, and ‘Fox & Friends’ is “now reportedly one of President Trump’s most senior confidantes and was even rumored to be taking the lead on briefings while the president listened attentively.”

It’s from The Onion, but it may wind up true, anyway.

It will be something for me to mull amid two baseball practices, two baseball games, two soccer games, a piano practice, a bar mitzvah and a Mother’s Day House Walk in Evanston.

I’d planned on inviting Mika Brzezinski and Sarah Huckabee Sanders along on the walk. But, after this morning, I’ll stick with my spouse and kids.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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