April 30, 2017
1 big thing: The split-screen night
President Trump's rallies are always a production. But last night's Day 100 victory lap in Pennsylvania — festooned with "Promises Made / Promises Kept" signs — was conceived in cinematic terms: us-versus-them, the people-versus-the-media.
Axios' Jonathan Swan sends me this scoopy, behind-the curtain reporting: West Wing officials, including Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, conceived of a split-screen effect: TVs would show Trump in full-blown nationalist populist mode, connecting viscerally with "forgotten" Rust Belt Americans.
On the other side of the screen: Washington reporters in bowties and ballgowns, looking out-of-touch, self-congratulatory and elite, at their White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.
According to sources familiar with the speech's drafting, there was a line that Trump didn't end up using that summed up the speech's intent: Washington reporters are "bubble people."
Trump's attack on the press was as full-throated as anything we saw on the trail:
- He spent the first 11 minutes whacking the media.
- He cited polls showing the public doesn't trust the press. He singled out CNN and MSNBC as "fake news" and went on a riff about the "totally failing New York Times" losing money on real estate.
- He contrasted his first 100 days against the media's first 100 days — "a big fat failing grade.
From the speech: "As you may know, there's another big gathering taking place tonight in Washington, D.C. Did you hear about it? [Crowd: Boo!] A large group of Hollywood actors [Crowd: Boo!], and Washington media [Crowd: Boo!], are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation's capital right now."
"They are gathered together for the White House Correspondents' Dinner without the president. And I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington's swamp, spending my evening with all of you, and with a much much larger crowd, and much better people, right?" [Cheers: "USA!" and "CNN sucks!"] [T]hey're trapped at the dinner — which will be very very boring. But next year maybe we'll make it more exciting for them, in Washington."
Why it matters: This remarkable speech shows Trump's inside-outside game. Inside, he's sculpting his 100-days narrative and giving a raft of interviews, assuring Beltway reporters that he knows they still matter. (And he's already teasing that he'll come to next year's dinner.) On the road, journalists are his go-to foil.
- Be smart: Don't over-interpret either half.
2. History wins
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein performed a rare duet last night as they presented awards at the White House Corresondents' Association Dinner. Each place setting had a "First Amendment" pin. People instantly pinned them to their tuxes and gowns.
From the Watergate duo's remarks before presenting the awards:
- "Shortly after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, Bob and I were asked a long question about reporting. We answered with a short phrase that we've used many times since to describe our reporting on Watergate and its purpose and methodology. We called it: 'The best obtainable version of the truth.'"
- "Richard Nixon tried to make the conduct of the press the issue in Watergate instead of the conduct of the President and his men. We tried to avoid the noise and let the reporting speak."
- "Almost inevitably, unreasonable government secrecy is the enemy — and usually the giveaway about what the real story might be. [Applause] And when lying is combined with secrecy, there is usually a pretty good roadmap in front of us. Yes, follow the money. But follow also the lies."
- "I know of no important story that I've worked on in more than half a century of reporting that ended up where I thought it would go when I started on it."
- "Almost all of our sources in Watergate were people who had, at one time or another, been committed to Richard Nixon and his presidency."
- "Incremental reporting is essential. We wrote more than 200 stories in Watergate."
- Carl "obtained a list of people who worked at Nixon's reelection campaign committee, not surprisingly, from a former girlfriend. [Laughter] He's finally embarrassed."
- "No one would talk. Carl said, 'Here's what we have to do,' launching a system of going to the homes of people, knocking on doors when we had no appointment."
- "[I]n 2017, the impatience and speed of the Internet — and our own rush — can disable and undermine the most important tool of journalism ... that luxury of time to inquire, to pursue, to find the real agents of genuine news, witnesses, participants, documents, to dive into the cab."
- "Like politicians and presidents, sometimes, perhaps too frequently, we make mistakes and go too far. When that happens, we should own up to it. But the effort today to get this best obtainable version of the truth is largely made in good faith. Mr. President, the media is not fake news." [Applause]
- "The indispensable centrality of fact-based reporting is careful, scrupulous listening and an open mind. President Nixon once said, 'The problem with journalists is that they look in the mirror when they should be looking out the window.' That is certainly one thing that Nixon said that Carl and I agree with."
- "Whatever the climate, whether the media is revered or reviled, we should and must persist, and I believe we will. We also need to face the reality that polling numbers show that most Americans disapprove of and distrust the media. This is no time for self-satisfaction or smugness."
3. "Now you know what it feels like to be a minority"
"Daily Show" correspondent Hasan Minhaj got rave reviews for his alternately subtle and brutal approach to the hardest gig in town, entertainer at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.
The top jokes, via Axios' Becca Rotenberg:
- "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the series finale of the White House Correspondents' Dinner."
- "The news coming out of the White House is so stressful, I've been watching 'House of Cards' just to relax."
- "Comedy Central [is] basically an internship for Netflix."
- "We've got to address the elephant that's not in the room. The leader of our country is not here, and that's because he lives in Moscow and it's a very long flight. It'd be hard for Vlad to make it."
- "You know Donald Trump doesn't drink, right? ... Think about that. That means every statement, every interview, every tweet completely sober ... He tweets at 3 a.m. sober. Who's tweeting at 3 a.m. sober? Donald Trump, because it's 10 a.m. in Russia and that's business hours."
- "Hillary Clinton couldn't be here tonight. She could have been here, but I think someone told her the event was in Wisconsin and Michigan. What? You guys! You know, Nate Silver told me that joke would kill. Nate Silver told me there was a 74.1% chance of that joke killing."
Drop the mic: "I don't have a solution on how to win back trust. I don't. But in the age of Trump, I know that you guys have to be more perfect now, more than ever. Because you are how the president gets his news. Not from advisers, not from experts, not from intelligence agencies. You guys!"
"So that's why you gotta be on your A-game. You gotta be twice as good. You can't make any mistakes. Because when one of you messes up, he blames your entire group. And now you know what it feels like to be a minority."
4. Inside Trump's NAFTA move
CBS's John Dickerson got a sit-down interview with Trump for "Face the Nation" at the White House yesterday afternoon, then rode Air Force One for the trip to Harrisburg.
Dickerson: "What do you know now on Day 100 that you wish you knew on Day 1 of the presidency?"
Trump: "Well, one of the things that I've learned is how dishonest the media is, really. I've done things that are I think very good. I've set great foundations with foreign leaders. ... NAFTA, as you know: I was going to terminate it, but I got a very nice call from a man I like, the president of Mexico.
"I got a very nice call from Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada. And they said: Please, would you rather than terminating NAFTA — I was all set to do it. In fact, I was going to do it today. I was going to do it as we're sitting here. I would've had to delay you. I was going to do it today. I was going to terminate NAFTA.
"But they called up and they said, "Would you negotiate?" And I said, "Yes, I will negotiate." ... But the media didn't cover it that way. The media said, oh, I didn't terminate NAFTA."
5. Grading Trump
The Day 100 appraisals ...
- "A president's very public education," by AP's Julie Bykowicz and Vivian Salama: "Health care is complicated. China can be a useful ally. NATO isn't obsolete. Being president is hard. ... Trump has been startlingly candid about his public education in the ways of Washington and the world."
- "Trump's Executive Orders Are Mostly Theater," by Michael Grunwald: "Trump's first 30 executive orders will create a lot of federal reviews and reports, along with some new task forces and commissions, but not a lot of substantive change. So far, they've been more about messaging than governing."
- N.Y. Times 2-column lead, "Remaking the Presidency, Trump Has Changed, Too," by Peter Baker: "[I]f the presidency had grown somewhat stale under the old norms as its occupants increasingly stuck to carefully crafted talking points and avoided spontaneity, Mr. Trump has brought back a certain authenticity and willingness to engage. ... Taboos once broken no longer seem inviolable."
- WashPost 2-column lead, "Trump's complex next 100 days," by Abby Phillip and Ed O'Keefe: "Trump administration officials are expected to spend the next six weeks soliciting feedback on the tax proposal and fine-tuning their approach. ... The centrality of Trump's economic agenda to his success as president has crystallized in recent days."
- L.A. Times 2-column lead, "Trump makes his mark on environment," by Evan Halper (online: "Trump stumbled on healthcare and immigration, but he's been 'a wrecking ball' on the environment"): "[T]he administration has managed in a few short months to upend numerous hard-fought environmental protections and climate actions that the fossil fuel industries have been targeting for years."
6. 1 foodie thing
This "donut wall" or 'donut installation" was the buzz of the White House weekend's annual Garden Brunch, hosted by Tammy Haddad, Kevin Sheekey, Hilary Rosen, Connie Milstein, Mark and Sally Ein, Microsoft Vice President Fred Humphries, Kelley McCormick, and Cafe Milano founder Franco Nuschese.
Other food and beverage highlights of Washington's shrunken prom weekend:
- White House Correspondents' Association Dinner entree course: Center Cut Petite Filet of Beef, Cognac & Morel Creme; Paired with Halibut; Crisp Kale and Potato Cake; Jumbo Peeled Asparagus, Carrot, Cipollini Onion, Roasted Pepper. Followed by Tapas Display of Desserts.
- Reception at the British Ambassador's Residence: Fish & Chips (cold-water cod, beer batter, fresh-cut fries, rosemary, aioli), Vegetable Curry, Sausage Rolls, Shepherd's Pie, Vegetable Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, Melted Gruyere Cheese Fondue with Tomato and Fresh Herbs, Carved Prime Tenderloin and Horseradish Cream, Chocolate Marquis Cake Squares.
- Garden Brunch: Scrambled Eggs in Tulip Croustades, Bacon Wrapped Egg Muffins, Quiche Trio, Spicy Pecan Crusted Chicken, Stuffed Half Avocados, Espresso Bar (Hot or Iced).
- Signature Cocktails had an airline theme (American Airlines sponsored) at MSNBC's "The After Party," at the Organization of American States: Old Fashioned First Class (Johnnie Walker Black Label, Demerara Syrup, Angostura Bitters) ... Refreshed Upon Arrival (Zacapa Rum, Fresh Grapefruit Juice, Fresh Lime, Maraschino Liqueur).