Had a legitimately interesting conversation on Twitter yesterday, starting here:
Journalists have indeed been far too passive in recent years. We covered Trump because he was entertaining, and then we were shocked to find people actually believed anything he said. Maybe he couldn’t kill a bunch of people in Times Square and still keep his whole base, but he could tell people Hillary Clinton killed a bunch of people in Times Square, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if a bunch of MAGA-bots on Twitter piled on in agreement.
But in this case? I wasn’t so sure.
So I replied:
My friend and colleague Andrea Canales responded:
I’d recommend the whole discussion. Andrea raised a lot of good points, and I had to stop and think about them overnight. In the general sense, I absolutely agree with her.
And yet, I still think there’s some truth to the idea that the best way to expose a narcissist who has lost touch with reality is to just stick a microphone up to his face and let him speak. It’s the only reason I can see for keeping Trump’s Twitter account active, for one thing.
As a Duke trustee said in a controversy over The Chronicle publishing something incendiary: “Gotta flush a snake out of the grass in order to kill it.”
So in this case, I’m assuming the Times had a limited interview window. They couldn’t just stay there all day and confront Trump with every falsehood. (Granted, that would take more than one day.) He’d eventually hop back in the golf cart.
By racing through a set of questions with limited follow-ups, the Times got Trump to race through several falsehoods. They count 10. The Post counted 24 (some of them iffy). CNN added “outrageous lines” to falsehoods and came up with 47.
If the Times reporter had pressed one topic, we’d only have one topic to dissect. Now we have many.
Another aspect of this interview: Sometimes, the best way to get good quotes in an interview is to make people feel comfortable. They’ll be more candid. Indeed, this interview tactic just played out in the soccer world, where Grant Wahl basically just let an aging state association president dig his own hole with a series of outrageous comments about his endorsement of U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Kathy Carter — or, as this state president calls her, “the girl.” When the soccer public’s jaw dropped, someone took to the state association’s Twitter feed to rip into Grant for not expressing any opinion about how outrageous those comments were during the interview. (Those tweets have since been deleted.)
In other words: This guy is pissed off because he was quoted accurately, and then everyone pointed out how out of touch he was.
So I’m still of two minds about this Trump interview. As Andrea says, Trump already provides a scattershot look at his delusions on Twitter each day, so perhaps the Times didn’t need to do that. Maybe I would’ve asked a follow-up or two. Then again, I’m not sure I would’ve had the data in front of me to show Trump that he was wrong, and I still think there’s some news value in seeing the president of the United States stumbling his way through an alternate reality in person, not just behind a computer keyboard.