What softball questions?

I want to pick up on John’s point about media outrage over the questions President Trump fields from reporters, and in particular the ones he took yesterday during his session with Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister. John focused on AP, but of course this outlet was not alone in displaying chutzpah.

On CNN, a media talking head expressed outrage that President Trump took no questions about Flynn, and no questions from any reporter with a major traditional American news outlet, during the brief question and answer session that followed his joint conference with Trudeau. Don Lemon, the left-winger who hosted the program, then sniffed that this helps us understand why people are now worried about authoritarianism in the U.S.

I kid you not.

To appreciate fully the lunacy of Lemon’s statement, let’s begin by reminding ourselves of the context in which Trump took no questions about Flynn. First, the media wasn’t lacking in opportunities to query the administration on this subject. Stephen Miller, a top Trump administration official, had taken questions about it on Sunday ABC. Kellyanne Conway discussed it on Monday (the same day as the session with Trudeau).

Also on Monday, Sean Spicer, the official White House spokesman, informed the media that Trump was still “evaluating the situation” regarding Flynn, making it obvious that Flynn was in hot water. He thus fully and (from all that appears) accurately briefed the media on the Flynn situation.

Second, the context of the questioning that outraged CNN’s talking heads was Trump’s session with the prime minister of Canada. In that context, it was entirely reasonable for questions to focus on U.S.-Canadian relations, not on Michael Flynn whose status was addressed by others in the administration (as noted above).

Had Trump taken a question about Flynn, presumably his comment would have been the same as Spicer’s — i.e., that the situation is being evaluated. Thus, taking such a question probably would have been a waste of everyone’s time, except to the extent that the media wanted another opportunity to remind people about Flynn. Any unwillingness by Trump to provide that opportunity would hardly be a sign of authoritarianism.

Third, at the time of the joint appearance with Trudeau, I don’t believe the “blackmail” story had been reported. When I started writing about Flynn last evening, I didn’t see this story on the Washington Post’s website. It popped up an hour or two later, after I had written the original post.

Therefore, whatever one makes of the “blackmail” angle, it wasn’t something new to ask Trump about at the time of his appearance with Trudeau. The angle apparently hadn’t yet emerged.

Now, let’s consider the charge that Trump took softball questions. It is false.

Here is the first question, asked by Scott Thurman of the local ABC outlet:

You just spoke about the desire to build bridges, although there are some notable and philosophical differences between yourself and Prime Minister Trudeau. I’m curious, as you move forward on issues from trade to terrorism, how do you see this relationship playing out? And are there any specific areas with which during your conversations today you each decided to perhaps alter or amend your stances already on those sensitive issues like terrorism and immigration?

And Prime Minister Trudeau: while only in its infancy so far, how do you see this relationship compared to that under the Obama administration?

What’s the beef with this question? It’s perfectly reasonable, and no softball. Thurman raises the fact that there are notable differences between Trump and Trudeau and he attempts to get at those differences. A more sensible question in the context of their joint appearance is difficult to imagine.

The second question was this one from a Canadian journalist:

A little bit of a followup on my American colleague’s question. President Trump, you seem to suggest that Syrian refugees are a Trojan horse for potential terrorism, while the prime minister hugs refugees and welcomes them with open arms. So I’d like to know, are you confident the northern border is secure?

Good question. Again, the reporter highlights an important difference between the two leaders and asks about a crucial matter — the degree of security along the northern border.

Here’s the third question. It came from a reporter with the Daily Caller:

President Trump, now that you’ve been in office and received intelligence briefings for nearly one month, what do you see as the most important national security matters facing us?

And Prime Minister Trudeau, you’ve made it very clear that Canada has an open-door policy for Syrian refugees. Do you believe that President Trump’s moratorium on immigration has merit on national security grounds?

The first question is off-topic, but hardly without interest to anyone who takes America’s national security interests seriously. The second question is on topic and certainly no softball. It probes an important potential area of disagreement between the two leaders.

AP, in its account of the question, omits the second part. It thus gives readers the misleading impression that the reporter lobbed only a softball. That’s not honest reporting.

It’s true that the second part wasn’t addressed to Trump, but it had the potential to embarrass Trump. And addressing it to Trudeau was natural. There would have been no point in asking Trump whether his moratorium has merit.

The final question was from another Canadian:

Mr. President, again, during the last three months, you have denounced NAFTA. You have talked over and over about the Mexican portion of the agreement, very little about the Canadian one. My question is in two short parts: Is Canada a fair trader? And when you talk about changes to NAFTA concerning Canada, are you talking about big changes or small changes?

Another fine question. NAFTA is at the heart of any potential disagreement between the U.S. and Canada. It’s natural, then, to wonder whether Trump considers Canada a fair trader (he does, for the most part) and whether he wants big or small changes to NAFTA insofar as Canada is concerned (he wants “tweaks”).

Do you see the specter authoritarianism lurking in the fact that Trump and Trudeau took these questions, and only these questions, during their joint appearance? I don’t either. They took good, pointed questions about U.S.-Canada relations, which is exactly what they should have done.

The media was able to ask three top-level administration officials, including the press secretary, about Flynn’s status. What it didn’t get was the opportunity to harass the president about Flynn during a conference with a foreign leader about entirely different subjects. The horror!

The real cause of big media’s bellyaching is that its stalwarts didn’t get to ask either of the two questions posed by American reporters. If Don Lemon truly believes that this presages authoritarian rule, he’s an idiot.


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