The cruelty and recklessness of amateur President Donald Trump stained the weekend and soiled the nation.
The mess dominated the Sunday shows. Even right-wing Fox News noticed it, a little bit.
Trump’s harsh and ragged crackdown against travel from seven Muslim nations caused alarm among many families, prompted several federal court restraints and sparked mass protests in airports and city streets.
And it brought criticism from many politicians, including some prominent Republicans.
“This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming to our country,” said a statement issued by Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, both conservative Republicans.
“That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than to improve our security.”
The statement was presented late Sunday by Fox, Trump’s sanctuary network, which otherwise did its best to avoid covering the story after Trump’s executive order was issued late Friday afternoon.
The other two major cable news networks—MSNBC and CNN—offered more professional reporting of Trump’s religious bigotry that caused alarm, chaos and revulsion across the world.
Late Sunday, when it became obvious the public was appalled by his half-cocked policy, Trump issued a written statement from the White House to dispute what most people could plainly see.
“This is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” Trump lied. “This is not about religion. This is about keeping our country safe.”
The tough-talking former casino boss and self-described pussy-grabber spent much of the previous week preening in front of television cameras, signing half-baked orders and bragging about himself to Fox News fluffer Sean Hannity.
But when his travel restrictions caused a major backlash, Trump was not available to speak on camera.
The story grew larger and more complex through the weekend, when the star performers of most cable news networks don’t work.
But MSNBC, in the 5 p.m. hour Sunday, presented the voice of Rachel Maddow, who spoke on a cell phone while the screen showed thousands of protesters demonstrating in New York as evening fell.
“The anti-Trump movement is going to be big, organic—both well-organized and also spontaneous,” Maddow said.
“The Trump administration, I think, in part, did all this stuff real fast at the very beginning and didn’t sugar-coat any of it and tried to be as blunt and confrontational as possible in part to see what kind of reaction they’d get, in part to see how far they could go.”
Maddow spoke briskly and with urgency, qualities sometimes lacking in her meandering scripts on The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. on weeknights. Her delivery Sunday carried power and passion as she narrated a dramatic scene and its high stakes for the Trump regime.
“They’re trying to see what they can get away with before people go nuts,” she said.
Shortly before Maddow appeared, MSNBC anchor and legal correspondent Ari Melber interviewed Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which led the fight to free people held by the government at JFK airport Saturday night.
He described the rollout of the Trump plan as “chaos and incompetence.” Romero called the ban “dog-whistle politics” and said Trump’s order “carves out an exception for minority religions” to favor Christians.
“He’s walked into a buzzsaw,” Romero said of Trump. “This is a legal quagmire they’ve walked into.”
Romero said he was stunned Saturday night by the ill-informed and unprepared government lawyers who tried to present the case for Trump’s order.
Might the dispute end up in the Supreme Court?
“I have a hard time imagining it doesn’t,” Romero said.
The rapidly changing nature of the news Sunday made the major morning shows less relevant than usual, but most had their highlights.
Hand me the remote . . .
STATE OF THE UNION For the second consecutive week, the Trump administration refused to send a representative to speak with host Jake Tapper on CNN. The top Republican to surface there was Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who looked nervous and sounded not-so-supportive of the president.
“We ought to all take a deep breath and come up with something that makes sense,” Portman told Tapper. “Let’s allow these people who have come here legally to this country to get out of detention.”
In that many travelers with ties to Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia were detained at airports or forbidden to board U.S.-bound flights, Tapper showed a clip of a smug Trump insisting on Saturday that his policy was “working out very nicely.”
New York mayor Bill de Blasio, on a remote camera, told Tapper “President Trump’s executive order is simply un-American . . . (it) violates our constitutional norms . . . This sends a horrible message . . . It’s the first step toward a Muslim registry.”
Among Tapper’s pundits was Ana Navarro, a Hispanic Republican conservative, who spoke of “families being torn apart” at the whim of The Great Leader. She opposed the notion that this was not really a Muslim ban.
“I’ll tell you who thinks it’s a Muslim ban,” Navarro said. “Muslims.”
Tapper showed a video clip of Trump talking on Friday to the Christian Broadcasting Network about how Christians in Syria have been “horribly treated” and how he, Trump, intends to correct that.
Panelist Bakari Sellers sang from the same hymnal, different page.
“As a Christian, I think this is deeply concerning,” Sellers said. “This is not what our country is built upon . . . This is the antithesis to Christianity.”
‘This is not a normal presidency. And so I think this is not a normal time for journalism.’
FOX NEWS SUNDAY Host Chris Wallace donated the first third of his one-hour show to Conway, who said inconvenience to Muslim travelers is “a small price to pay” for safety and security from terrorists. She called the suggestion of a Muslim ban “nonsense.”
Regarding Trump’s threats against Mexico—build that wall, tax those imports—Conway told Wallace how his network should perform.
“Do you know who I want Fox to interview?” Conway asked. “Go interview all those parents who have lost children to opiate use.”
This seemed to imply that Trump’s wall and a tariff will stop the flood of drugs that Trump says comes from Mexico.
Wallace avoided, for the most part, questions about the Muslim travel ban.
Instead, he brought up Steve Bannon, a top Trump consigliere who last week called up The New York Times to attack the media, telling journalists to “shut up” in its criticism of Trump.
WALLACE: “Kellyanne, do you understand how offensive that is?”
CONWAY: “I understand how offensive it was to never be taken seriously that Donald Trump could be elected president.”
WALLACE: “ . . . That’s a different issue.”
CONWAY: “It’s all the same. It is an anti-Trump screed.”
Conway went on to brag that she “ripped a new one to some of those hosts” last week when she appeared on talk shows and coined the term “alternative facts” to explain the lies of Spicer and Trump.
Conway urged the firing of TV pundits who “talk smack” about The Great Leader.
“I’m too polite to call them out by name,” Conway said. “But they know who they are.”
Mixing metaphors with the best of ‘em, Conway said “We turn the other cheek” despite “gaping and seeping wounds.”
During Fox’s one-hour show, a total of 23 seconds were devoted to images on screen of protests. There were no interviews with families of Trump’s victims or the attorneys who won the stay Saturday night in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
They interviewed no protestors. Wallace, who must know better, offered little context about the diplomatic blowback.
MEET THE PRESS NBC host Chuck Todd presented an Iraqui translator who helped U.S. armed forces in Iraq but was told, at first, he could not enter the U.S.
“I support the U.S. government from the other side of the world,” the man said. “But, when I came here, they say ‘No.’ And they treat me as if I break the rules or do something wrong.”
Priebus, increasingly huffy-puffy as Trump’s chief of staff, told Todd that the Trumpists “apologize for nothing here” and that 75 to 80 percent of Americans agree with Trump’s tactics.
Like Conway, Priebus told his host how to do his job.
“If you would just slow down for a second and listen I could answer your question,” Priebus said.
Todd asked Priebus about a Holocaust memorial commemoration statement from the White House that failed to mention Jews.
“Mr. Priebus,” Todd said, “do you understand why many Jews were offended?”
Priebus assured Todd that Trump and his administration will “never forget the Jewish people that suffered” when Adolf Hitler tried to destroy the race before and during World War II.
Connecting the dots on this topic was the next guest, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who said “This is what Holocaust denial is” and that it comes from Bannon, who used to run the Breitbart News website.
The site, Kaine said, pushes “white supremacy and anti-Semitism.”
THIS WEEK Martha Raddatz hosted the ABC show and presented an interview with a Muslim man who said his wife was delayed more than a day at Dulles airport in Washington.
He said American officials told her “This is not your visa. This is America’s visa. We will take it away from you.’”
Her White House guest was Spicer, who said only 109 people were detained at American airports, declining to mention the much higher number of travelers told at foreign airports that they could not board flights into the United States.
RADDATZ: “What messages does this send to Muslims worldwide?”
SPICER: “We’re going to protect our country and our people.”
Raddatz also discussed Trump’s decision to elevate Bannon to the National Security Council and diminish the roles in that group of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence.
She showed a Twitter message about it from Susan Rice, the national security advisor under President Obama.
“Treated as afterthoughts,” Rice said of discarded officials. “And where is the CIA? Cut out of everything?” Rice called Bannon’s promotion “stone-cold crazy.”
Also speaking forcefully against the administration was Rep. Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who, earlier, tweeted that Trump’s position “is completely at odds with our most fundamental value: freedom.” Moulton is a Middle East war veteran.
“I’m ashamed that you are our president,” Moulton wrote to Trump.
Asked by Raddatz about Trump’s denial that his policy is a Muslim ban, Moulton replied: “We’re not stupid. We see what Trump is up to.”
A later guest was Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense under both President George W. Bush and President Obama. In the campaign, Gates called Trump “willfully ignorant” and “stubbornly uniformed.”
Gates told Raddatz he worried that this Trump edict might endanger people who have helped American forces in the Middle East and that “I do worry about . . . the way it’s received around the world.”
FACE THE NATION Priebus also spoke with CBS host John Dickerson about Trump’s harsh travel policy.
DICKERSON: “Does he consider this a success in sending the ‘America First’ message?”
PRIEBUS: “Absolutely . . . He’s not willing to be wrong on this subject.”
Changing subjects, Dickerson asked Priebus about Trump’s Saturday telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a strongman admired by Trump.
DICKERSON: “Any conversation about Russian efforts to meddle in the last election?”
PRIEBUS: “I’m not going to get into the content, line by line, John, on a secure call in the Oval Office . . .”
Another Republican guest, McCain, called Trump’s travel order “a confused process” and he wondered aloud why Trump’s staff did not bother to inform the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.
He also questioned the combination of nations thrown together by Trump’s order.
“Is Iraq the same as Iran?” McCain asked. “Of course not.”
McCain added that the net effect of Trump’s ploy might be to help ISIS propaganda.
Regarding the National Security Council and the addition of the propagandist Bannon, McCain said: “I am worried about the N.S.C. . . . The appointment of Mr. Bannon is something which is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history.”
On the pundit panel, right-wing talk-show host Hugh Hewitt said “the press reaction is somewhat hysterical” to Trump’s travel decree. That prompted Molly Ball of The Atlantic.
“Hysterical reaction is also part of the point,” Ball said. “He is a provocative figure. He loves it when he can make everybody’s heads explode by doing things in a disruptive manner . . . This is a man who believes a lot of things that aren’t true . . . He believes in conspiracy theories.”
RELIABLE SOURCES One of Brian Stelter’s guests on CNN was Lydia Polgreen, the new editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. She spoke about Trump’s aggressive fight with media and how the reporters should respond.
“This is not a normal presidency,” Polgreen said. “And so I think this is not a normal time for journalism. We are going to be under unprecedented pressure and attack . . . There’s a war on information. There’s a war on truth. There’s a war on fact.”
Of the Trumpist bigotry reflected in parts of the media, Stelter said “Many conservative websites and some talk-show hosts on Fox News are invested in a narrative about brown-skinned boogey-men.”
MEDIA BUZZ Host Howard Kurtz asked at the top of his Fox News Channel show: “Should The New York Times and other outlets be calling the president a liar?”
Short answer: Yes.