By:
August 28, 2020

President Donald Trump gave his Republican National Convention acceptance speech Thursday night. But it wasn’t what he said that had the media world buzzing. It was where he said it.

In what might have been illegal, and what many considered unethical, the president delivered his speech in front of at least 1,500 spectators on the South Lawn of the White House.

“The most notable thing about tonight is the venue,” NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell said. “The fact that he staged this large of a gathering, during a pandemic, without masks, without social distancing, in a sacred place really — an historic landmark — nothing like this has ever been done. … It certainly is going to raise many questions in the future.”

In the future? It raised questions immediately.

Appearing on ABC, Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, said, “I never thought I would see what I’m seeing tonight on the South Lawn. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we had done that in 2004 or if Barack Obama had done that in 2012. … People’s hair would be on fire.”

There were plenty of exploding talking heads on Thursday.

It’s certainly no secret that MSNBC’s Joy Reid is no fan of Trump, but her comments after his speech Thursday night were among her strongest ever in condemning this president.

“As I’m watching this, I’m thinking Fidel Castro, Julius Caesar, Mobutu Sese Seko,” Reid said. “That was not an American president giving an acceptance speech. That was a monarch. … If democracy in America ever falls and we become a complete autocracy with a decrepit leader and his corrupt family moving their trunks into the White House and never leaving, if we become the old DRC or we become what Brazil is now, if we just fall as a democracy, tonight is what it will look like. … This was repugnant. This would be the end of America.”

Minutes later on MSNBC, former Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said, “I will never forgive him for what he did tonight: turning the White House into a sleazy political function is not what this country is all about. My heart is broken. When I saw political banners stretched across the South Lawn of the White House, when I saw him coming out of the White House like a monarch at the beginning of his speech … am I angry? Yes. But I’m heartbroken.”

McCaskill, however, believes Trump’s “show” could backfire.

“He thinks people like politics in America?” McCaskill said. “Most Americans don’t like politics. They put up with it because it’s an important part of their democracy. … Most Americans don’t, and they don’t want the White House to be an instrument of a political campaign.”

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl summed it up this way: “We have never seen anything like this. For generations White House staffers, Democrat and Republican, have been told it is unethical, if not illegal, to engage in overt campaign politics from the White House, and we see here at the South Lawn of the White House transformed into a national political convention.”

The speech itself

So what about Trump’s actual speech?

“I thought that this was shaping up to be a higher-energy night than Nights 2 and 3, but Trump’s acceptance speech was just inexplicably long and not especially well-written or well-delivered,” FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver wrote. “As I always say when we cover these things, that isn’t meant as a prediction of how the public will react. But the Trump campaign is behind, and it could really have pared the speech down to, say, two major themes instead of running through the whole laundry list.”

Trump did meander, but if he did have one theme above all others it was that the country will be destroyed if Joe Biden is elected. But his delivery seemed different from the Trump we normally see in press conferences and rallies.

“It was either toned-down rally Trump or upbeat State of the Union Trump,” NBC News’ Chuck Todd said. “It felt (as if) he was sort of vacillating between the two. It felt like a State of the Union that was looking backwards. … I think this speech can be summed up in four words and it was something he ad-libbed: We’re here (and) they’re not. To me, this acceptance speech and his agenda, his whole goal is to just stop Joe Biden and own the ‘libs.’ This was an acceptance speech that felt about him articulating what he’s against more than what he’s for.”

CBS News’ John Dickerson said, “He behaves like such an outsider. Everything he does screams ‘I’m an outsider’ — even when he’s sitting in the Oval Office. “

What did Fox News think? Well, Laura Ingraham loved the speech, calling it “incredible” and “electric.” Few agreed with her.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace said it was “far too long.” (For the record, it’s believed to be the second-longest convention acceptance speech ever behind, you guessed it, Trump’s acceptance speech in 2016.) Wallace went on to say the speech was “surprisingly flat and didn’t seem to have the bite that he usually does have in his speeches.”

Fox News’ Brit Hume and Dana Perino agreed with Wallace, both calling the speech “very long.” Hume added, “And he was, as Chris suggests, I think a little flat. He’s done very good speeches from teleprompters before, but tonight he seemed to miss the excitement he generates in himself in his ad-libbing.”

Fox Business anchor Neil Cavuto echoed many of the comments heard everywhere about the lack of masks and social distancing, and also criticized the speech, saying it “seemed to be rambling a lot.”

Just the facts

From left to right, Joy Reid, Rachel Maddow and Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC’s Republican National Convention coverage. (Courtesy: MSNBC)

CNN used a chyron called “Facts First” to fact-check in real time some of the things Trump said during his speech, but even it had a hard time keeping up. At one point, CNN fact checker Daniel Dale tweeted, “The president is doing a lot of lying.”

The most noticeable use of the “Facts First” chyron was when Trump started talking about the coronavirus. It put up a graphic that showed there have been 5,866,214 cases in the United States and 180,814 deaths. And then the “Facts First” chyron said: “Trump downplayed Covid-19 for months at the start of the crisis.”

In summing up the speech on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow said, “A lot of it was wrong.” She then went through a laundry list of inaccurate statements, more than a dozen in just a minute or so in a wickedly impressive display.

“It’s all … sorry,” Maddow said. “I’m done now. That’s just the frosting on it. There’s so much more.”

For more, check out PolitiFact’s fact-check of Trump’s speech.

The other Trump speech

Ivanka Trump speaks at Thursday night’s Republican National Convention. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The other big speech on the final night of the convention was delivered by President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump. It was a glowing speech praising her father’s accomplishments in office, but this line seemed to draw the most attention:

“I recognize that my dad’s communication style is not to everyone’s taste,” Ivanka Trump said. “And I know his tweets can feel a bit unfiltered. But the results speak for themselves.”

That did not go over well with another politician’s daughter. Meghan McCain, daughter of the late Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, tweeted, “It’s not a ‘communication style’, its cruelty and indecency. Trump said he didn’t like POW’s who were captured, implied my father was burning in hell after he died and constantly trashed him while he was fighting brain cancer. This is how they have lost all decent people.”

And now, onto the rest of today’s newsletter …

A report on the reporters

This is astonishing, just astonishing: The White House is compiling a “very large dossier” on a Washington Post reporter and others for being a “disgrace to journalism and the American people.”

How do we know this? The White House said so. All because the reporters were digging into a legitimate news story.

When asked for comment on a story about how President Trump’s company has charged the government nearly a million dollars for rooms and other services at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, White House spokesperson Judd Deere said the Post was “blatantly interfering with the relationships of the Trump Organization,” demanding “it must stop.” Then Deere took aim at one of the story’s authors — Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Fahrenthold.

Deere’s statement said, “Please be advised that we are building up a very large ‘dossier’ on the many false David Fahrenthold and others stories as they are a disgrace to journalism and the American people.”

It was a stunning admission for the White House to threaten a respected reporter for reporting on what appears to be a legitimate story backed by facts.

Sports and protests and the media

Officials stand beside an empty court at the scheduled start of an NBA basketball first-round playoff game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic earlier this week. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

In this space here, it’s impossible to list all the incredible work turned in by news networks covering sports leagues and players not playing in order to bring attention to just the latest incident of a Black person shot by police. But it should be noted that, in particular, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV have done a remarkable job with especially strong analysis. And in these moments, it is noticeable just how diverse the on-air personalities are at these networks, giving them credibility to discuss all of this with authority, emotion and perspective.

ESPN’s coverage Thursday — especially commentary from people such as Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon, Richard Jefferson, Marcus Spears, Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and many others — has been riveting and thought-provoking. On NBA TV, former NBA star Chris Webber turned emotional earlier this week while talking about the importance of stepping up at this time: “I have young nephews who I’ve had to talk to about death before they’ve ever seen it in the movies. If not now, when? If not during the pandemic and countless lives being lost? If not now, when?”

During an appearance on Spectrum SportsNet, analyst and former NBA star Robert Horry broke down while saying, “It’s hard to tell your 14-year-old son that I worry about him when he walks out that door. I have a 21-year-old son. I worry about him because Black men are an endangered species pretty much. These cops are just killing because they feel like if they don’t have their body cams on, they have a right.”

However, the NBA’s actions were not greeted positively by key members of the Trump administration, including the president himself. When asked about it Thursday afternoon, Trump said, “I know their ratings have been very bad because I think people are a little tired of the NBA, frankly, but I don’t know too much about the protests. But I know their ratings have been very bad and that’s unfortunate. They’ve become like a political organization and that’s not a good thing. I don’t think that’s a good thing for sports or for the country.”

In an interview on CNBC, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner gave a bizarre answer that said little: “Look, I think that the NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially. So they have that luxury, which is great.”

Marc Short, the chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, called the NBA boycotts “absurd” and “silly.”

On CNN, commentator Van Jones said, “We’re seeing better leadership coming from athletes than we’re seeing right now coming from the entire Republican National Convention. You would think, at a moment like this where you have this issue front and center — you have lawlessness in a police department, followed by peaceful protests which then became lawless. Then you have lawless vigilantes. Trump is supposed to be this law and order president and he’s not speaking to the issue of the vigilante justice. He’s not speaking to the issue of the lawlessness in the police department. You would think this would be a golden moment. You got the convention, you got the whole world watching, you got a chance to say something, you would think he would say something to call out all of the lawlessness and bring us together. Instead you are picking on athletes who are at least trying to use their platform for good and to lift up the issues.”

Powerful anecdote

On ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” co-host Tony Kornheiser told this story while talking about seeing various signs around his neighborhood:

“Every day when I walk my dog, I go around the corner and I pass by a house — a Black family’s house. And in the front window is a hand-lettered sign and it says, ‘Stop killing us.’ And I gasp. Every time I pass it, I gasp.”

Harris’ first one-on-one

Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris being interviewed by NBC’s Craig Melvin. (Courtesy: NBC News)

The “Today” show has landed the first one-on-one interview with Kamala Harris since she was chosen to be the Democratic vice presidential candidate. In fact, she already spoke with NBC’s Craig Melvin and the interview will air this morning. (Some of it aired Thursday night on the “NBC Nightly News” and MSNBC.) She called the shooting of Jacob Blake “sickening,” and said, “I don’t have all the evidence, but based on what I’ve seen it seems the officer should be charged.”

Banned in Buffalo

The Athletic’s Tim Graham reports that the Buffalo Bills have banned their own team radio host and web reporter Chris Brown for violating the team’s media policy. Graham wrote, “The 2020 media policy forbids reporting on game strategy, snap counts and with which units players are working out. The guidelines were revamped for competitive reasons, with the public unable to attend camp sessions and no preseason games being played.”

Apparently, Brown went on the radio show and TV show “One Bills Live,” which is also simulcast online, and discussed such things as where certain players were lining up on offense and defense. As of Thursday night, he had not tweeted since Aug. 20 after tweeting regularly and often before that.

The Bills did not comment to Graham, who wrote, “An indication that Brown has been suspended and not fired, he still is listed in the team’s directory.”

I guess rules are rules, but there are few more paranoid people out there than National Football League coaches.

Bezos’ billions

Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The world’s richest man has gotten even richer this year. Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is now worth an estimated $202 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index. That’s an increase of $87 billion since January.

The top four on the list all fall under the industry of “technology.” Bezos is followed by Bill Gates ($124 billion), Mark Zuckerberg ($115 billion) and Elon Musk ($101 billion).

Three things that popped into my head

  • On his show this week, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson talked about two protestors shot and killed by a gunman in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He said, “So are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder? How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?” To which I say: Are we really surprised this was Carlson’s reaction? How shocked are we that Carlson would seemingly condone vigilante justice?
  • No surprise, but by far, the best coverage of Hurricane Laura was on The Weather Channel. By the way, did you know The Weather Channel calls itself “The Most Trusted TV News Network?” They might be right.
  • The good news: The conventions are over! The bad news: We still have 67 days before the election.

Correction

I got my NBA Marcs confused in Thursday’s newsletter. I meant to point to the on-air work of ESPN NBA reporter Marc Spears. Instead, I tossed up an air ball and typed the name of Marc Stein — a former ESPN NBA reporter who now covers the NBA for The New York Times. My apologies to both Marcs.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

More resources for journalists

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Donate
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
More by Tom Jones

More News

Back to News