Friday, June 02, 2017

This shit drives me crazy

[White House counselor Kellyanne] Conway first told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the Trump team would be “watching with the rest of the world” to see what Comey said in his congressional testimony.
Then, asked directly if Trump would use his presidential authority to block Comey’s testimony, Conway hedged: “The President will make that decision.”
So, in other words, Conway did not go in front of the teevee to announce that Trump might raise executive privilege to try to block Comey from testifying. Instead, a reporter came up with the idea and asked Conway about it. Because she did not know the answer, Conway said that the President would decide whether to do that. Before that question was asked Conway took for granted that Comey's testimony would happen. She said Trump would be "watching [Comey's testimony] with the rest of the world." It was not until the question was asked that there was any sense that the President might stop it.

Let's assume that the president never considered blocking Comey's testimony before Conway's interview and thus gave her no guidance on how to respond to that question. She probably would have given the exact same answer. What other answer could she give other than the truthful answer that the president himself is the one who makes that decision?

Yet look at the headlines that came out of that exchange:

Conway won't rule out Trump trying to block Comey's testimony

Trump Is Deciding Whether to Block Comey’s Testimony, Says Kellyanne Conway

White House Doesn’t Rule Out Blocking Comey’s Senate Testimony

It's Possible Trump Could Block Comey Testimony

Just by asking a question, the reporter has created the impression that the White House is considering trying to block Comey's testimony. The headlines all may be accurate, but because of the context that gave rise to Conway's statement, they are misleading.

This also happened during the Obama Administration, and it drove me just as crazy then. In fact, Obama's infamous "red line" in Syria came about in a similar fashion. Obama never promised to use force if chemical weapons were used in Syria, he just said if any party used or moved great quantities of the weapons, there would be consequences. But at the time it was reported as if he threatened military consequences. That sloppy reporting almost caused the U.S. to get into a war, and it still is causing the misapprehension that Obama failed to follow through on a threat to use military force that he never specifically made.

But the phenomenon is even more irresponsible when it comes to our current president. Maybe President Trump was considering trying to use executive privilege to block Comey's testimony before Conway opened her mouth on Good Morning America. But given the profound ignorance of our president, it is just as likely that the idea had never occurred to him. Before today, Trump might not have been aware there is a thing called executive privilege, much less its fuzzy parameters and potential power. Reporters may be creating a constitutional crisis where there didn't have to be one.