Of seven major weekly shows on broadcast and cable television Sunday, only one made a big deal of the recent, racially-motivated kidnapping and torture video: Fox News Sunday.
It started in the first minute during the teaser menu when host Chris Wallace showed the blurred-out, bleeped-out scenes and said “That horrific attack everyone’s talking about—four blacks torturing a mentally disabled white man live on Facebook.”
“F— Donald Trump,” said a voice on the video, the words printed on screen by Fox. “F— white people.”
In the last third of the program, after showing the video again, Wallace turned to panelist Juan Williams—the only African-American there—and asked him to explain “How on earth can this happen?”
So it was up to Williams to explain evil deeds by people of his race.
“It’s shocking, it’s primitive, it’s savage,” Williams said. “ . . . It scares me that people can behave in this manner to each other . . . it stirs up racial tensions already hot from the campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump.”
The Republican Trump defeated the Democrat Hillary Clinton in November’s presidential election with a campaign that attacked Mexicans and Muslims and called for “law and order,” which is old code language from the George Wallace/Richard Nixon era to stoke racial division.
Williams then expanded the thought, noting that “white nationalists who seem excited by Trump’s election” are using the video—from Chicago—to attack the Black Lives Matter movement, which has risen in response to fatal shootings of black men (mostly) by white police officers (mostly).
Some of these deaths are caught by amateur video.
The white nationalists, Williams said, are using the Chicago torture video to “to say now this is evidence of black racism, as if that would therefore legitimize acts of white racism. It just becomes perverse.”
“Clearly,” Williams said, “there is something happening in the society that is deeply troubling on the level of race.”
Disputing Williams was Laura Ingraham, a fellow panelist who was reported to be a candidate for a job in Trump’s White House.
“You mentioned white nationalists excited about Trump,” Ingraham said to Williams with a mirthless chuckle. “And you mentioned Trump’s comments about Mexicans. This is just an evil act . . . To mention Trump in the conversation with what they (the accused) did . . . is completely off base.”
Williams reminded Ingraham that at least one of the four arrested persons used Trump’s name.
INGRAHAM: “They mentioned Trump negatively. You’re also mentioning Trump negatively.”
WILLIAMS: “I don’t think there is any question that there is racial tension around the comments that Donald Trump made in his campaign.”
INGRAHAM (with sarcasm): “And none of it was affected at all by what Barack Obama has done for false comments: ‘Hands up! Don’t shoot!’”
This alluded to the BLM movement. At this point, the screen showed Williams with his familiar, wide-eyed, “I-can’t-believe-she-said-that” look on his face. Before he could respond, Wallace cut off the conversation and broke for commercials.
The same subject came up on ABC’s This Week from host George Stephanopoulos in his one-hour conversation with President Obama at the White House. ABC didn’t show the torture video.
“It’s not as if that’s the first time a hate crime has taken place in this country,” Obama said. “Hate crimes have been taking place for hundreds of years in this country.”
It would seem here that the President was alluding, perhaps, in his professorial way, to lynchings against black people (mostly men). But he was not specific. He said the major difference now, as with the BLM deaths, is technology.
“Seeing cruelty and callousness of that sort from young people is heartbreaking,” Obama said. “So, naturally, if you see a video like that, you’re going to say to yourself, ‘My God, this is horrible,’ and rightfully so.”
As if often the case with Obama, he sought to make it a teaching moment.
“But that allows us then to talk about how do we break free from these kinds of attitudes,” he said.
Noting that “overall, in the country, this is a lot safer place than it used to be,” Obama said there is a “cycle of cynicism” and “unrealistic expectations” about his election as the first African-American chief executive.
“After Obama’s election, how could there be any racism?” Obama said with a rueful smile. “Well, you know, that was never a realistic expectation.”
A coarser version of these discussions took place on Fox News Channel on Thursday during The Five when panelist Jesse Watters complained that the mainstream media played down the Chicago torture story.
Egged on by Kimberly Guilfoyle, Watters spewed the usual trope about what if the races were reversed? and said “The President would be weighing in. (Al) Sharpton. (Jesse) Jackson. They’d be on the scene. Trump would have to answer for this. White America would have to answer for this.”
Watters said different races are held to different standards and “I believe that’s more prejudiced” because, Watters said, “that almost assumes that certain races aren’t equal.” (Hmmm. What could he possibly mean?)
When the conversation drifted to the mass murders of nine black people by Dylan Roof in a South Carolina church, Watters got up on a high horse and promptly fell off.
“OK, well then, are there going to be satellite trucks parked outside this trial in Chicago the way they are at Dylan Roof’s trial?” Watters asked. “I doubt it . . . I’ll make you a bet right now this story gets much less coverage than Dylan Roof.”
After a few more comments, panelist Greg Gutfeld had the decency to point out that killing nine people in a church is different that brutalizing one person and that the two crimes should be in different categories.
Hand me the remote . . .
THIS WEEK During the interview of Obama by Stephanopoulos, one bit of irony came in the opening, when the host and the President walked through the corridors of the White House.
In a hallway that featured portraits of First Ladies, the first painting they passed was that of Hillary Clinton, who seemed to be looking over Obama’s left shoulder as he passed by.
In the Oval Office, Obama discussed lack of public trust in the news media.
“So many people are skeptical of mainstream news organizations,” he said, “that everything’s true and everything’s false. Nothing is settled. Everything’s contested.”
In view of Russian hacking of the Democrats during the presidential campaign, Obama said some pundits have more confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials than in American intelligence officers and news media.
“Vladimir Putin’s not on our team,” he said.
Referring to his successor, Obama said of Trump “He is somebody who, I think, is not lacking in confidence . . . he has not spent a lot of time sweating the details . . . I think it’s fair to say that he and I are sort of opposites in some ways.”
In a vague way, Obama said that a person who lacks “basic reverence” for the Presidency “can get into trouble.”
Stephanopoulos noted that Obama’s Democratic Party has been “hollowed out” during Obama’s years because it has lost many seats in Congress and in state capitals.
“Is that on you?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“I take some responsibility for that,” Obama said. “We did not begin what I think needs to happen . . . rebuild the Democratic Party at the ground level.” He said the Republicans have exploited a cultural gulf by telling rural voters “city slickers are all looking down on you.”
FOX NEWS SUNDAY Wallace’s featured guest was Reince Priebus, the chair of the Republican National Committee, who is about to become Trump’s White House chief of staff.
Wallace pressed him on how Trump has denied Russian hacking in the election despite a consensus that it happened.
WALLACE: “Does he accept that the Russians were behind this hacking campaign? Yes or no.”
PRIEBUS: “Well, sure . . .”
But Priebus went on to blame the Democratic National Committee for being a “sitting duck” with not enough safeguards on its computer system.
WALLACE: “Who do you blame more for this? Who do you blame more for this? Who do you blame more for this, Reince? Do you blame Putin and the Kremlin or do you blame the DNC? Who’s the primary actor here?”
PRIEBUS: “Uh, ah, first of all, listen, the primary actor is the foreign entity that’s perpetrated the crime to begin with . . .”
Later, Wallace asked Priebus why Trump called Senator Charles Schumer of New York—the Democratic leader—“a clown.”
“Well, f-f-first of all, Chuck Schumer and President-elect Trump have a long, long relationship together,” Priebus said. “I think you’re seeing some frustration, that’s all.“
MEET THE PRESS Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona were the tag team for host Chuck Todd, who let them criticize Trump’s refusal to accept intelligence testimony about Russian hacking.
In that it is said Trump believes only what he sees on TV, Graham spoke directly to him, saying Putin is not the reason Clinton lost and Trump won.
“I don’t think anybody’s saying that,” Graham said. “So, Mr. President-elect, that’s not what we’re trying to do . . . Mr. President-elect, it is very important that you show leadership.”
Then Graham spoke to another audience happy about how Russian hacks were released at the Ecuadorian embassy in London by international fugitive Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
“To my Republican friends who are gleeful,” Graham said, “you’re making a huge mistake . . . You’re not a Republican. You’re not a patriot.”
After Trump mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway came on to reassure Todd and the nation that the Russians didn’t change the totals of the voting machines, Andrea Mitchell of NBC exposed the disingenuousness way the Trump camp keeps denying something not alleged.
“Changing the subject,” Mitchell said.
Fellow panelist David Brooks of The New York Times compared Trump to his shadowy advisor Steve Bannon, a right-wing propagandist who stays in the background but throws around his alt-right weight.
“A guy with an ideology,” Brooks said, “versus a guy with no attention span who sees a lot of shiny objects.”
Marring the show was panelist Rick Santelli of CNBC, who has a habit of waving his hands and shouting and interrupting people, especially women.
“Let me finish my sentence,” Mitchell snapped at him.
FACE THE NATION Host John Dickerson of CBS matched wits with several top-shelf guests. One was Sen. Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, who discussed how Republicans wish to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no health insurance plan to replace it for at least 20 million people, perhaps more if the insurance market collapses.
“This is akin to shoving someone off the cliff and—as they’re falling down—saying ‘Don’t worry! We’re going to figure this out before you get to the bottom,’” Booker said, adding that it is “reckless and dangerous” and concluding with “I’m going to fight that.”
Another visitor was Michael Morell, the former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a spook spokesman for the anti-Trump crowd.
“The President-elect has done two things, right?” he said. “He’s questioned the capabilities of the intelligence community publicly. But the other thing he’s done, which I think is actually more damaging, I think, is he’s questioned the intelligence community’s integrity by implying that their assessment was politically motivated—and that’s a gut punch.”
On the pundit panel, Ezra Klein of Vox noted that Republicans keep saying Russians never hacked the RNC like the DNC. Klein said this is not true.
“Both were hacked,” Klein said. “There is a lot of information sitting in Russian servers.”
If the Republican Congress tries to repeal Obamacare without replacing it, Klein said “The Republicans will be not just managing the status quo but managing a collapsing status quo.”
Right-wing talk-show host Tammy Bruce replied “It’s already collapsing.”
“No,” Klein shot back, “it really isn’t.”
STATE OF THE UNION When Conway visited with Jake Tapper, the CNN host asked her how Trump could deny the Russian hacking had any impact on the election when Trump, on the campaign trail, kept referring to it in attacks on Clinton.
“Obviously,” Tapper said, “he thought it was going to have an effect on the election.”
As most hosts have learned, Conway rarely answers a question directly and often runs off on another subject, so the question has to be rhetorical, forcing her to flee an argument she clearly can’t win.
It is often said by Conway and other Trumpists that mention of Russian hacking is to undermine the credibility of Trump’s win in the Electoral College (despite losing the popular vote by almost three million ballots).
Rep. Alan Schiff, Democrat of California and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, addressed this by saying there is no one undermining the legitimacy of the Trump presidency more than Trump himself.
“His continued refusal to accept the obvious . . . it’s still more denial of what took place,” Schiff said. “This tells me he’s not stepping up to the job.”
Reflecting on how Trump wrote that “stupid people” and “fools” don’t want a closer relationship with Russia, Schiff said “Only stupid or foolish people would think our interests are aligned with Russia’s. For the most part, they are not.”
Another guest was former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a Republican who warned of trouble for his party on the health care issue.
“I’m frankly shocked that they don’t have a plan,” Santorum said of Congressional Republicans. “They haven’t really prepared for this . . . they should’ve put a little bit more work into it . . . for them not to have a replacement in mind at this moment is scandalous . . . If you repeal Obamacare . . . they’re going to have to vote for new taxes, new spending, and conservatives are saying ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! We’re not going to do that.’”
RELIABLE SOURCES On CNN, Merrill Brown, the director of the school of communication at Montclair State University in New Jersey, told host Brian Stelter that he feared the media is “totally unprepared” for the Trump era in part due to cutbacks in the news business, a dwindling of expertise and Trump’s unprecedented approach.
Brown said he read on the Breitbart site (Bannon’s baby) that press secretary Sean Spicer predicted a wave of executive orders on Jan. 21.
Late in the show, Stelter reviewed CNN’s story from late last week that accused Monica Crowley of plagiarism in a 2012 book. CNN reported that Crowley’s book allegedly lifted passages from many sources.
Crowley, a Fox News contributor, has been named senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council. Trump Tower thundered in defense of Crowley that the CNN scoop was a “politically motivated attack.” Crowley made her mark in politics as an aide to former President Richard Nixon.
MEDIA BUZZ Spicer, Trump’s bulldog press secretary, visited Howard Kurtz to release a skunk in the White House media garden. He casually suggested that Team Trump might change the standard definition of legitimate, established media covering the president.
“Maybe we just invite more of the American people into this conversation,” Spicer said. “Which I think the President-elect is very keen on because this is a conversation that shouldn’t be limited to just the big media.”
Citing proliferation of media on the conservative side, Spicer said “People have done a real good job in our community making sure they get the stories straight. They should have equal access and have an opportunity to get their questions asked and answered to get that perspective out to key constituencies.”
Translated from Trumpspeak, this means “We’re going to still have a daily presser, but we’ll call on who we like and we’ll let in more web sites like Breitbart, which will mean fewer questions—and maybe fewer chairs—for The New York Times, The Washington Post and the major networks.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.