2 Reporters. 2 Presidents. 2 Very Reasonable Questions. And then, 1 Completely Unhinged Response.
In sharp contrast to my 2012 interview with President Obama, President Trump’s vicious attack on reporter Peter Alexander today was, perhaps evidence of a leader unraveling.
In 2012, I was a nervous, young journalist asking President Obama a question on behalf of scared Americans (myself included) in the midst of our country’s economic crisis. I was looking for hope to share with others.
And today, veteran reporter NBC News Reporter Peter Alexander asked a similarly reasonable question — this time in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic — yet the responses we each received could not have been more different …or disturbing.
During today’s daily task force briefing at the White House, reporter Peter Alexander asked President Trump if he might be giving “false hope” to Americans by showing enthusiasm for unproven drugs to combat the coronavirus.
Alexander then asked Trump, “What do you say to the Americans who are scared, though? I guess … nearly 200 dead, 14,000 who are sick, millions, as you have witnessed, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now, who are scared?”
And that’s when the beast was apparently unleashed.
“I say that you are a terrible reporter. That’s what I say.”
Trump then told Alexander he’d asked a “nasty question,” and went off on Alexander’s network — as well as its parent company.
“You’re doing sensationalism,” Trump said. “And the same with NBC and Comcast. I don’t call it Comcast. I call it ‘Con-Cast.’”
“Let me just tell you something,” Trump then added. “That’s really bad reporting. And you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism.”
CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins then stood up to the president:
“You see yourself as a wartime President right now, leading the country through a pandemic that we are experiencing. Do you think going off on Peter, going off on a network is appropriate when the country is going through something like this?”
Trump responded by saying Alexander is “not a good journalist” and continued his tirade. “Coming together is much harder when we have dishonest journalists,” he said.
Later, in a statement, Alexander said:
“I am sure there are plenty of baseball fans watching right now. In TV terms, we call this a ‘softball.’ I was trying to provide the president an opportunity to reassure the millions of Americans, members of my own family and my neighbors and my community and plenty of people sitting at home, this was his opportunity to do that, to provide a positive or uplifting message.
Instead, you saw the president’s answer to that question right now. But it really does go to one of the fundamental concerns, Americans are looking for a sense of confidence in their leaders at this moment as many of them are glued to their TVs or stuck behind closed doors in their homes surrounded by only loved ones right now. I think it does sort of reveal a frustration, perhaps an anxiety of his political prospects, about a situation that is hard to keep in control as we witnessed it continue to spiral at this time.
The bottom line is, this is a president whose experiences in life are very different than most Americans across this country right now. Not a person who likely worries about finances or had, not a person who in the course of his life is worried about his future, not a person who is worried about where to find a paycheck for his bills or for his rent and as evidenced by the president suggesting that an opportunity to provide for American some reassurance about how they should feel right now, the president instead took it out on me.”
Contrast Trump’s reprehensible exchange to my own interview with President Barack Obama on January 30, 2012, following the State of the Union address.
“Mr. President, prior to your taking office I was never politically active, but since then it’s been obvious to me that there is no dialogue out there to help our nation’s children understand the economic situation that we are faced with. Children see and hear everything, and they see and hear far more than we even realize.
They’re also exposed to words and phrases, like “foreclosure” and “cutting back” and “crisis.”
I was raised in a generation in which discussions about financial matters were either taboo or the messages were confusing. Oftentimes, wealth equaled success. And I think we all know in this day and age that that’s just simply not true.
What I’m asking is, what you will do help create a new narrative for the children of our nation to help them to understand, and look ahead to life beyond this economic crisis that we’re in?”
“Well, first of all, obviously I’ve got two girls at home, so I’m having to have conversations with them all the time about what’s going on with the economy, and over the dinner table I try to explain to them what’s happened.
I think that one of the most important things I can do as President is just to remind this generation that previous generations have had tougher times — whether it’s my grandparents going through the Great Depression, or some of the tough recessions that we went through in the ‘80s.
We’ve always come out on top, as long as we work together to solve some of these problems.
And I think it’s very important for all of us to remember that whatever the challenges that are out there, we can work through this.
We still have the best universities on Earth; we still have the best entrepreneurial spirit; some of the best businesspeople on Earth; the best workers on Earth, the most productive.
And so we’re going to do fine if we make some good decisions.
And what I’m trying to do for kids and everybody else is to remain hopeful about where we’re going.
This economy went through a real body blow, but it’s improved.
Now, more personally, one of the things that we want to do is to actually increase financial literacy among kids so that they have a better sense of making good choices.
And actually, we have a whole panel that’s working with the Department of Education and school districts so that some of the concepts that we’re talking about don’t seem so foreign.
Because part of what’s important is empowering our kids to be smart consumers of financial information, so that when they’re going out and taking a student loan, they have a sense — we call it ‘know before you owe.’ If they’re going out there to buy their first home, we want them to be well equipped to make good decisions. And not just judge themselves on, ‘how much am I purchasing’, but judging themselves on, ‘am I making good decisions that will empower me so that I don’t get into a debt trap’, ‘so that I’m not just being judged by how much I’m consuming, but rather how much I’m producing and how much I’m contributing to the overall society?’
So that’s a conversation that, on the one hand, we can have as a country as a whole, but each of us, as parents, are also going to have to make sure that we’re trying to instill those kinds of old-fashioned American values into our kids.”
What more can I possibly say except these two interviews speak for themselves.
Oh, and Peter Alexander? Thank you.
Follow Christine Wolf at www.christinewolf.com