Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, plummeting in the polls, didn’t appear on any of the major current-affairs shows on Sunday.
But his campaign spokesmen—Paul Manafort and Jason Miller—engaged in verbal combat with two CNN anchors, Jake Tapper and Brian Stelter.
Manafort, speaking with Tapper on “State of the Union,” was particularly annoyed by a front-page piece in Sunday’s New York Times headlined “The Failing Inside Mission to Tame Trump’s Tongue; Often-Sullen Candidate Trusts Instincts Over Aides’ Coaching, Associates Say.”
The usually well-spoken Manafort at first seemed a bit tongue-tied.
“Contrary to your report, and contrary to the New York Times’ nameless sources story, the campaign is, is moving together—moving forward—and is very strong,” Manafort said.
Then Manafort more clearly said that the news media are echoing “the Clinton narrative” and dwelling too much over subjects like Trump’s vague and menacing words about gun owners stopping Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton from appointing judges if she wins the White House.
Why, he asked, didn’t the media spend more time covering accusations that Clinton had a conflict of interest as secretary of state because the Clinton Foundation accepted donations from some of the same people she dealt with in government work.
It’s “pay for play,” Republicans say, and it’s revealed in Clinton’s emails.
Tapper shot back that the media covered that story, too.
“These things, just because you say them, they’re not true,” Tapper said.
Too bad Tapper’s show ran many hours before The Times posted a new piece Sunday night about Manafort.
It reported that Manafort’s name appeared in financial documents found by investigators in Ukraine “as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort’s main client, former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.”
Perhaps that Times report will intrude on Monday’s message of the Trump campaign, which, his aides promised, would be delivered in a speech in Youngstown, Ohio, about “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Sensitive as Trump is—and so media-aware, too—he might even comment on some of Tapper’s questions to Manafort, such as this one about Trump’s tax returns, which he refuses to release.
“You’ve obviously made the calculation it’s better to take the hit than to let the public see what’s in those taxes,” Tapper said. “What’s wrong in these tax returns? What do you not want the public to see?”
Tapper also referenced recent comments by Carl Paladino, Trump’s New York co-chairman, who verbally attacked the father of a Muslim-American soldier killed in Iraq.
According to Tapper, Paladino said the father of the dead soldier doesn’t deserve to be called a gold-star parent because he, the father, “favors an ISIS-type attitude against America.”
Manafort answered by changing the subject to the presence, at a Clinton rally last week, of the father of the man who killed 49 people in an Orlando gay bar on June 12.
“An avowed Islamic radical,” Manafort called the man.
After Tapper said with annoyance “You didn’t address the question at all,” Manafort said he had not seen Paladino’s quotes. Tapper wasn’t buying it.
“Do you think by having Mr. Paladino continuing to serve as your New York co-chair, you’re dishonoring the military?” Tapper asked. “Mr. Paladino, your New York co-chair is attacking a Gold Star family. So you might want to look into that.”
On CNN’s Reliable Sources, host Stelter interviewed Miller, the senior communications advisor to the Trump campaign.
After Miller called the Times’ piece “a liberal hatchet job,” Stelter asked “What is inaccurate?”
Miller replied that the Times’ story “chock full of anonymous, blind quotes and sources talking about meetings that, quite frankly, never even happened . . . It’s completely ridiculous . . . This whole sky-is-falling approach The New York Times wants to write up.”
Stelter asked Miller a different version of the question.
“You’re not asking for a correction on any specific facts in the story?” Stelter asked Miller.
Miller answered with belligerence.
“Again, Brian, the entire premise of the way you’re setting it up here, I think is ridiculous,” Miller said. “We’re being asked to punch at ghosts here.”
“Donald Trump on Twitter said these sources were non-existent,” Stelter said. “Do you have any evidence that The Times manufactured sources? . . . I found that offensive.”
Miller responded with “The entire description of this is garbage and we’re going to push back. We’re not going to stand for it . . . I would urge people to cancel their subscription to The New York Times . . . I would take the entire article and throw it in the trash.”
Miller, in response to a question, added that the campaign will consider blacklisting Times reporters from its rallies, as it has done to The Washington Post and other media.
“Is it fair to say that Donald Trump also consumes biased media, you know, shows like Sean Hannity’s, and then repeats things that he hears on Fox News?” Stelter said.
Stelter also said Trump uses signs and charts at his rallies taken directly off Fox News or from what Stelter called “fringe, right-wing web sites” that also cover UFOs and aliens from outer space.
“How can we believe what he’s actually saying?” Stelter asked.
As for Katrina Pierson, another Trump surrogate, Stelter noted that she recently said by mistake that President Obama started the war in Afghanistan. (It was President Bush; Pierson blamed audio problems for misunderstanding the question.)
Stelter asked: Should she continue to be a TV presence for the campaign?
“Brian, that’s just a ridiculous comment,” Miller said, avoiding the question.
Stelter then turned to the charge by Trump that the election will be “rigged” if he loses to Clinton in Pennsylvania, where he trails Clinton by 10 points in some polls.
STELTER: “You know how dangerous it is for a candidate to say this election is going to be stolen from him. You know that he could end up delegitimizing the results and sowing unrest in this country.”
MILLER: “Brian, that’s a ridiculous assertion.”
Trump’s running feuds and impulsive proclamations are ‘almost like a public therapy session.’
Hand me the remote…
FOX NEWS SUNDAY Host Chris Wallace had an exclusive interview with Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the first by Trump’s vice-presidential pick since the convention last month.
WALLACE: “Do you believe that Hillary Clinton was involved in a pay-to-play arrangement as secretary of state with big donors to the Clinton Foundation?”
PENCE: “Well, it looks that way more and more every day, doesn’t it?”
WALLACE: “Do you think there should be an investigation, a federal investigation?”
PENCE: “Well, certainly officials at the FBI, we also found out this week, believe there should be an investigation. Obama’s Department of Justice apparently has shot that down.”
Pence, more than once, used the phrase “foreign donors.”
When Wallace mentioned that Trump claimed he was being sarcastic about Obama and Clinton founding ISIS, he added “Isn’t the ‘sarcastic’ excuse getting a bit old?” Pence replied: “Well, uh, no, I don’t, I don’t think it’s getting old at all.”
One curious observation on Pence. He said of Trump “This good man is going to be a great President of the United States.”
But, when he said it, Pence didn’t nod his head in affirmation.
Instead, he shook his head from side to side as he spoke those words, a gesture generally taken as body language for “No.”
He also discussed Indiana’s new restrictions on abortion.
“I believe in the sanctity of life,” Pence said, again shaking his head from side to side as he spoke the words.
On the pundit panel, George Will referred to the Trump candidacy as “sort of a garage sale.”
He said Democrats are “holding their breath” and hoping no more damaging Clinton emails are exposed by computer hackers or others.
“The question is, ‘Can they run out the clock between now and election day?’” Will said. “And my answer is ‘Probably.’”
Another panelist, Charles Lane of The Washington Post, called Trump’s campaign “a grab bag of protectionism and tax cuts for the rich.” He called Clinton’s campaign “a grab bag of protectionism and tax increases for the rich.”
Then he added: “The market for tax increases on the rich is strong. So, whether it’s old Democratic medicine or not, it’s more popular.”
THIS WEEK Martha Raddatz of ABC again sat in for host George Stephanopoulos and interviewed Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, one of few Republican elected officials speaking enthusiastically about Trump.
Sessions said the news media makes “mountains out of molehills” and that there is too much “negative press coverage” of issues “that are not that significant,” such as Trump’s accusation last week that President Obama and Clinton were “founders” of ISIS, the terrorist group.
Three days later, Trump said he was just being sarcastic. As for Trump’s charge that the election will be rigged in Pennsylvania if he loses there, Sessions said “Too much has been made out of that comment.”
Raddatz later read a Twitter message from Trump that said: “If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly, and didn’t put false meanings into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20 percent.”
On the pundit panel, conservative Rich Lowry of National Review referred to “this perverse symbiotic relationship between the media and the Trump campaign.”
“The media, self-evidentially, wants to destroy him,” Lowry said, “and he is perfectly happy to give them the material to do it.”
L.Z. Granderson, discussing Trump’s chances, said it will all come down to “How many heterosexual white men without college degrees are there in the country?”
Coming at this theme from a different angle was J.D. Vance, the author of a hit summer book Hillbilly Elegy, which describes the lives of Southern working-class people of Scots-Irish descent who moved North to the Rust Belt for better jobs and better lives but now struggle with multi-generational pathologies of poverty, violence and what Vance calls “learned helplessness.”
“They think economic and social success is entirely out of their control,” Vance said. “They’re frustrated because they feel like the institutions than enable success are closed off to them . . . I think, frankly, that’s a big problem with Trump. He diagnoses their problems in a very successful, very passionate way. But I don’t see him as offering many solutions.”
STATE OF THE UNION After Tapper interviewed Manafort, his most dynamic guest was Carlos Gutierrez, commerce secretary under President George W. Bush. He is one of those Republicans supporting Clinton over Trump.
Gutierrez has steel-gray hair, a white mustache and salt-and-pepper eyebrows. He emphasized his words by pointing a finger, shaking a fist and bringing down an open hand upon the table in front of him.
“At some point, you have to put party aside and ask ‘What’s best for the country?’” Gutierrez said. “I don’t want to live in a society that I think Donald Trump will create.”
He said Clinton would be “a darned good president,” although “I would have preferred Jeb Bush. . . . I am afraid of what Donald Trump would do to this country . . . I’m going to do everything possible to see the GOP doesn’t get destroyed.”
To the pundit panel, Tapper played a recording of Trump saying last week “It’s either going to work, or I’m going to, you know, I’m gonna have a very, very nice long vacation.”
Bakari Sellers responded with “A lot of Americans really want Donald Trump to go on a nice, long vacation . . . Donald Trump’s campaign is just falling apart at the seams.”
Jan Brewer, the former Republican governor of Arizona, defended Trump.
“The media tends to look at a few little statements that he might say off the cuff and blow them up,” she said.
Tapper answered “How dare we cover the comments he makes.”
When Sellers said voter identification is used to intimidate black and brown voters, Brewer broke in.
“That is absolutely ridiculous,” she said.
Sellers replied that voter lines in Arizona can be four or five hours long, particularly in Democratic precincts.
As for the Clinton Foundation, Brewer said the Clintons “run around the country pick-pocketing everybody to put into their personal bank accounts.”
Sellers replied: “Governor, we’ll make a deal. I’m going to get Secretary Clinton to do a press conference on the Clinton Foundation when you get Donald Trump’s tax returns.”
RELIABLE SOURCES Stelter, near the end of his CNN show, had two items about Fox News. One was that Rupert Murdoch had named Bill Shine and Jack Abernathy to replace Roger Ailes, the former emperor at Fox who was forced to resign after accusations of sexual harassment.
Both new co-presidents already were top executives at Fox. Stelter’s guest was Sarah Ellison of Vanity Fair, who said Murdoch didn’t want to rile up the Fox staff with bosses from outside the walls of the Fox castle.
“They’re concerned that if they got new leadership at this point, they would kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” Ellison said.
She also said that negotiations are under way with representatives of Ailes and Gretchen Carlson, who sued Ailes for sexual harassment after he chose not to renew her contract.
Since then, others—Meghan Kelly is one—have come forward to echo stories like hers.
“Multiple women were taping conversations with Roger Ailes and those tapes are really something that is at issue in these discussions,” she said. “There’s a lot more that’s going to come out. More women coming forward and probably more headlines.”
Stelter’s other Fox item was a clip of host Sean Hannity last week hinting ominously that Clinton is hiding a severe illness or impairment.
“Is it possible she had a stroke?” Hannity asked a doctor who had not examined Clinton or her medical records. “Or, do you really believe it was a head injury, a traumatic brain injury?”
It’s the kind of innuendo at which Hannity excels, like a boxer’s sucker punch, below the belt and after the bell.
Stelter called him out.
“Let me be clear, that was reckless speculation by Sean Hannity,” Stelter said. “But Hannity’s not interested in the truth about Hillary Clinton’s health . . . Look, conspiracy theories are so much more interesting than the truth. The last time I checked, Fox still has ‘news’ in its name.”
FACE THE NATION John Dickerson’s CBS show opened with scenes of violence in Milwaukee Saturday night after an armed black man was shot to death by police.
He showed scenes of cars burning and windows smashed on a police car.
Interviewed by phone was Amanda Porterfield of local station WDJT.
“Our news crews have been out there,” she said. “They came back bloodied and bruised. People attacked them. They were robbed down to their shoes.”
But there was not further reporting or discussion of what could become a significant story. By remote camera, Dickerson interviewed Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine who explained why she could not vote for Trump.
“The tipping point for me was when he attacked the parents of the fallen soldier,” she said. “It was inexplicable to me that anyone—much less a presidential candidate—would not honor the sacrifice and empathize with a family who lost a son in war.”
Collins said Trump attacked them and their religion, Islam.
“The barrage of cruel comments and the attacks on people who are vulnerable and unable to fight back really troubled me,” Collins said.
She said a president needs to treat people “with respect and common decency. And that’s where, in my judgement, Donald Trump has failed.” She accused him of a “constant barrage of the ill-informed and cruel comments.”
Another CBS guest was a former Republican Maine senator—William Cohen—who also is a former secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton.
Cohen said of Trump: “He uses language to divide, to demean and ultimately to divert. He’s diverting attention from the big issues. It forces you in the media to be chasing everything down a rabbit hole. What did he mean? Was it sarcastic? Was it sincere?”
Dickerson also showed a Trump tweet. It read:
“The failing @NYTimes, which never spoke to me, keeps saying that I am saying to advisors that I will change. False. I am who I am.”
Dickerson showed the current Time cover, which portrays Trump as an orange and yellow head, melting down. Michael Scherer of the magazine said Trump’s running feuds and impulsive proclamations are “almost like a public therapy session.”
Michael Gerson of The Washington Post said of Trump: “He has based his life on the notion not to be a loser. He now is facing the prospect of being one of the biggest losers in American history.”
MEDIA BUZZ On Fox, host Howard Kurtz marveled at the anti-Trump coverage by the media.
“I’ve never seen anything like this level of vitriol,” Kurtz said. “And some of it may be caused by Trump with the statements he makes.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.