After a week of crucial reporting that shed light on President Trump’s penchant for disinformation and questions of ethics law violations which have long plagued the White House, the hosts of multiple Sunday shows were criticized for their lax questioning of administration officials.
On Friday night, Politico broke news of a Congressional inquiry into an otherwise routine US Air Force delivery of supplies to Kuwait earlier this year, which included two overnight stops at the Trump Turnberry resort outside of Glasgow, Scotland.
A day later, the week-long saga of Trump’s refusal to correct his erroneous warning that Hurricane Dorian would impact Alabama was further complicated when The Washington Post reported that a senior National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official had directed National Weather Service employees not to contradict the president.
And on Saturday evening, Trump himself topped the week’s developments by announcing that he had invited leaders of the Taliban for peace talks at Camp David, only to later cancel negotiations after the terrorist group claimed responsibility for a car bombing that killed a U.S. soldier. The secret talks, which would have included a separate meeting with Afghani President Ashraf Ghani, were scheduled to take place just days before the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
With so many groundbreaking stories developing over the weekend, the Sunday shows provided their hosts, considered among their respective networks’ foremost, with the opportunity to break down for viewers the complicated series of reports and vigorously press officials for explanations.
Instead, officials were hardly pushed to answer follow-up questions. When asked about the planned negotiations with the Taliban at Camp David, and whether he would be troubled by the invitation had it been extended by a Democratic administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo simply told CNN’s Jake Tapper he was “wrong about that.”
On the issue of Trump presenting reporters with an edited NOAA chart of Hurricane Dorian’s projected path that had been drawn on to falsely include portions of Alabama, Meet The Press moderator Chuck Todd asked Sen. Roy Blunt if the debacle diminished Trump’s credibility. When Blunt, after a lengthy pause, said it did not, Todd thanked him for his time and ended the interview. Even though a White House official had previously told The Post that Trump had himself altered the NOAA chart, Todd did not press Blunt further.
Chuck Todd to Senator @RoyBlunt: Are you concerned that the credibility of the President of the United States has been diminished?
Blunt: Pauses. Shows the camera a desperate look. Another pause. "No."
End of interview.
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) September 8, 2019
Watching “This Week” talk about media coverage of #sharpiegate. Everyone missing why this was important story. One of the largest issue of this administration (maybe the largest?) is Trump’s war on the truth and his attempt to destroy it. This was a CLEAR illustration of that.
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) September 8, 2019
Oliver Darcy, a senior media reporter at CNN, criticized related coverage of the edited NOAA chart, tweeting that guests on ABC’s This Week missed the point of the story, which was “not about a sharpie,” but instead about “an effort to destroy the truth.”
“And Trump’s attempt to destroy the truth is the BIG story of his admin,” Darcy added. “He’s repeatedly beating up the system, hoping it falls in line.”
Indicating that the story is far from over, The New York Times on Monday reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had threatened to fire senior officials at the NOAA and forced them to publish an unsigned statement supporting Trump after a NWS office in Birmingham contradicted him. Hours later, the acting head of the NOAA announced Monday that he would investigate whether the agency violated its own policies by backing Trump over its own scientists.
Trump also on Monday denied knowing anything about the military expenditure at his property. Hours later, new reporting emerged that Air Force personnel had stayed at the Turnberry resort on two additional, previously unreported occasions. In addition, The Times reported that in 2014, when he was a civilian, Trump entered an agreement with a struggling local airport to boost tourism in the area in exchange for passenger referrals to his property, even though the resort was more than 20 miles away and more expensive than nearby hotels.
A day earlier, however, only one of the five Sunday shows, CBS’ Face The Nation, had covered the story. Even then, the story was only briefly addressed, and when anchor Margaret Brennan was given the opportunity to ask former Secretary of Defense James Mattis about the visits, which occurred during his tenure, she did not do so.
The failure to question Mattis about the possible corruption was later criticized by many, including the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein who called it “journalistic malpractice” and Fordham Law Professor Jed Shugerman, who said it was a “dereliction of journalistic duty.”