A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Highs and lows
The US military’s successful overnight raid in Syria, resulting in the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, showcases the highs and lows of the Trump presidency. It’s no wonder why viewers and readers oftentimes have whiplash.
This was the week when Trump’s impeachment in the House began to appear truly inevitable. Many reporters and commentators came to this conclusion after a round of damning depositions by Bill Taylor and other public servants.
Yet the week ended with an extraordinary national security development — a daring and dangerous raid approved by Trump and carried out by teams of elite US troops. Here’s the banner headline in Monday’s NYT:
“It was the most significant announcement of the death of a terror leader since President Barack Obama revealed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed by US Navy Seals in a dramatic late night address in May 2011,” CNN’s Zachary Cohen wrote.
And Trump claimed al-Baghdadi’s death was a bigger deal than bin Laden’s assassination, though most experts disagreed. He clearly wanted to make the most of the military’s accomplishment — by addressing the nation on Sunday morning and then taking questions from reporters.
But impeachment still looms. All of the alleged abuses of power that were filling up TV screens on Saturday are still relevant on Sunday and Monday. This moment is an extreme example of the roller coaster-like highs and lows that have dominated the Trump years…
Did the president tell the truth?
Were his graphic descriptions of the raid accurate? Unfortunately this is an open question right now. This NYT story casts some doubt on Trump’s assertions about al-Baghdadi “whimpering” and “crying” before blowing himself up. And fact-checkers like Daniel Dale have already debunked Trump’s assertions about how he uniquely foresaw the pre-9/11 threat…
The president’s detailed depictions of the raid and graphic comments about the violence made me think that he was trying to build up the significance of al-Baghdadi’s death compared to bin Laden’s. Of course, bin Laden was always far more familiar and fearsome in the minds of Americans. As CNBC’s John Harwood tweeted, “in the American psyche, Baghdadi was to bin Laden as an ant is to an elephant…”
Monday’s news cycle?
Trump wanted Saturday’s raid and Sunday’s announcement to be “a legacy-defining moment,” the NYT reported.
But is that how it’s going to be framed? Or is TPM boss Josh Marshall right? Marshall said the raid “will be a big thing for about a day and then will devolve into a grievance about how Trump wasn’t feted like Obama with Osama bin Laden,” and why the Democrats “don’t agree to end impeachment inquiry because this guy got killed.” I can almost hear those talking points coming out of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity’s mouths…
“Lock him up”
To my point about the highs and lows: As expected, the president was loudly booed when he was introduced at Nationals Park during Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night. “The crowd responded with loud, sustained boos for several seconds,” WaPo’s Josh Dawsey reports.
Perhaps unexpectedly, there were also some “lock him up” chants heard around the ballpark. This ignited a debate on social media about whether it’s ever appropriate for any crowd — at a game or a rally — to call for the jailing of a political leader…
>> Lisa Tozzi tweeted: “I am looking forward to the rage tweet about how he was not booed…”
>> Some further color from CNN’s Noah Gray: “Later Trump was seen watching intensely during a traditional race of four characters dressed as former Presidents. He did not applaud when the character dressed up as Teddy Roosevelt won.”
For the record, part one
— Aides convinced Trump “that waiting until Sunday morning to announce” the raid “would dominate the talk shows,” Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman report… (NYT)
— Trump “had a 900-word statement but ended up saying about 8,000,” Josh Dawsey writes, calling it “a made for TV Trump morning…” (WaPo)
— “Two photos capture vastly different presidents,” the AP’s Aamer Madhani writes… (AP)
Journalists are patriots too
In this era of reckless “enemy of the people” attacks, it is especially important to point out how journalists serve as friends of the people. For example: Some journalists knew about the raid targeting al-Baghdadi as it was happening, but chose not to report the information until U.S. forces were out of harms’ way.
One of those reporters was James LaPorta, a staff writer for Newsweek, who was later credited with breaking the al-Baghdadi news. He sat on the news for hours. “I’m a former Marine infantryman. Didn’t want to cause any potential harm,” he told me.
Paul Rieckhoff tweeted a “shout out” to the Newsweek team “and all the other reporters that held their stories on this news for as long as possible in order to protect our troops on the ground. For anyone who calls the press the ‘enemy of the state,’ remember times like this.”
The Post has been delivering stellar coverage of the stealth raid all day long… But on the social media the newspaper has been blasted for a terrible web headline on its obit of al-Baghdadi. The headline briefly called him the “austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State” as opposed to, you know, a murderer. It was adjusted, so the headline now calls him the “extremist leader of Islamic State,” but the Post admitted that “the headline should never have read that way.”
I asked the paper for further comment, and spokeswoman Kris Coratti responded, “Post correspondents have spent years in Iraq and Syria documenting ISIS savagery, often at great personal risk. Unfortunately, a headline written in haste to portray the origins of al-Baghdadi and ISIS didn’t communicate that brutality. The headline was promptly changed.”
For the record, part two
— The biggest DC story until Saturday night’s raid: John Kelly speaking at a Washington Examiner event and basically saying Trump is unfit. “Kelly is saying here that Trump isn’t up to the job, without actually saying those words,” Maggie Haberman observed… (Examiner)
— Democratic Rep. Katie Hill of California released a statement on Sunday night announcing her resignation from Congress amid allegations of improper relationships with staffers… (CNN)
— BuzzFeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy tweeted: “Hill is resigning amid allegations of inappropriate relationships with staffers *and* after a campaign of harassment, including revenge porn, allegedly from an ex-husband who she calls “abusive.” Reporters should mention both those things!” (Twitter)