Ever since the rise of Trump, cable news anchors have faced a nagging dilemma. In the spirit of balance, they’ve tried to book Trump defenders who respect facts and civil engagement. Surely those people must exist. But all too often, the Trump guests rant and rave and lie. What should the anchors do about that?
Jake Tapper, on his Sunday CNN show, came up with the perfect solution. He threw Stephen Miller off the air.
It’s worth revisiting what happened, because this move was long overdue. Miller, a Trump policy adviser, was invited on the show to answer questions in a two-way dialogue. But there’s no point in giving extended airtime to a guy who recites Dear Leader catechisms and yaps like an amphetamine-fueled chihuahua.
When Tapper brought up the book “Fire and Fury” — specifically, the passage where Steve Bannon said that Trump may have met with Russian operatives on the day Donald Jr. hosted them at Trump Tower — Miller attacked the book as “a work of poorly written fiction. The author is a garbage author of a garbage book. The betrayal of the president in this book is so contrary to reality, to the experience of those who work with him. [On the campaign trail] I saw a man who was a political genius,” someone who came up with material on the plane and “delivered flawlessly to groups of 10,000 people.”
“Answer the question,” said Tapper. Understandably so, because neither Miller’s broadside about the book (which invites the questions: Why did the White House grant access to “a garbage author”? And why did so many staffers trash Trump to the author?), nor his hailing of Trump as a genius, came close to answering explaining what happened with the Russians in Trump Tower.
Miller finally answered: “I have no knowledge of anything to do with that meeting.” Oh. “But what I can tell you unequivocally is that the allegations and insinuations in the book are nothing but a pile of trash … completely and totally fraudulent.”
Actually, the book confirms what has long been reported about Trump’s temperament and unfitness. When Tapper pointed out that “there are a lot of people in the White House quoted in the book,” Miller focused on Bannon and said the guy was never important: “The president’s statement on Steve settles that once and for all …. The reality is, the president is a political genius with his strategy and his vision and his insight.”
Tapper tried to point out that Bannon was Trump’s senior strategist during the home stretch in ’16, that he was rewarded with senior status in the White House, and that Miller worked “hand in glove” with Bannon. Therefore, “can you really claim that he had nothing to do with Trump or his presidency?”
Whereupon Miller went into a long jag about how Trump the genius “tapped into the pulse of millions and millions of Americans, a phenomenon that [CNN] didn’t see” — somehow overlooking the fact that CNN and the other cable networks saw it all, by airing the campaign rallies live and thus giving Trump several billion bucks in free advertising.
Meanwhile, Tapper was still trying to understand how Miller could claim that Bannon had been a marginal player: “If you would let me ask the question—”
Miller: “No. Because you have 24 hours of hysterical anti-Trump coverage on this network …. This isn’t a courtroom and I have a right to speak!”
Tapper urged Miller to “calm down.” He then listed Bannon’s participation on a number of policy fronts — the original travel ban, pulling out of the Paris climate deal, pulling back on a trade deal — and asked the question again: “Can you acknowledge the reality that he was a key player?”
Miller: “The president has not gotten the due he deserves for the movement he put together” — and he was off on another genius jag. “The truth,” he said, was that when he traveled on Trump’s campaign plane, he watched the candidate “come up with material” for the rallies ….
“You already made that point, Stephen.” Yep. Miller was repeating the genius story he’d told five minutes earlier.
This interview took place roughly 24 hours after Trump lauded himself as a “very stable genius,” so Tapper, having heard quite enough on that theme, asked Miller whether it’s helpful for a president to tweet such things about himself.
Miller: “The president’s tweets absolutely reaffirm the plainspoken truth. A self-made billionaire who revolutionized reality TV who tapped into something magical that’s happening in the hearts of this country.” (He’d used the exact same line, about Trump as a self-made billionaire and reality TV revolutionary, five minutes earlier.)
Finally, 12 minutes into the segment, and right after Miller complained that he didn’t even get “three minutes” to hail Trump’s genius, Tapper had had enough. His closing remarks — delivered while Miller continued to yap — should be emblazoned on a plaque:
“There’s only one viewer you care about right now, and you’re being obsequious and you’re being a factotum in order to please him. And I think I’ve wasted enough of my viewers’ time.”
Bravo. Even Fox News commentator Howard Kurtz said, “I didn’t see anything unfair in Tapper’s questions.” Tapper’s ultimate message — which other anchors should emulate — is that propagandists should do their thing on their own time. Because ours is too valuable to waste. Because the last thing we need is Dear Leader drivel that sounds like this:
“Not for one moment does his hand tremble. A great genius in our midst …. One has to serve him with profound devotion. He is more true, more simple, more farsighted than any statesman that has gone before.”
Oh wait, that’s a quote from Joseph Goebbels.