1 big thing: Inside Trump’s fake news recidivism
With the departure of White House chief of staff John Kelly, the misinformation emanating from President Trump has only escalated.
- Alumni of this White House see a possible reason: Although Kelly was thwarted in many of his efforts to control the president, one place he made authentic inroads was clamping down on the paper flow to the Oval Office.
- "Anyone who circumvented that process was going to have a serious problem," said a former official who saw the transformation up close.
"It has devolved into anarchy," added another alumnus of Trump's White House.
- "Someone mentioned to me a few days ago it's like the old [pre-Kelly] days of the administration, just with less people," this former official continued.
- "The wild, wild west. ... At least during the early days, he had a bit of a buffer with Hope [Hicks] and [longtime bodyguard] Keith [Schiller] there."
Wednesday was Kelly's last formal day in the White House, but his influence had declined since he announced his departure on Dec. 8.
Since then, Trump has made several unusually specific factual assertions that were quickly shown to be inaccurate, suggesting more unvetted information may be reaching him than had been the case in the heyday of Kelly's control:
- Arguably the most notable one ... During Wednesday's devil-may-care, 95-minute Cabinet meeting, Trump said that back in 1979, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan "because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there." A Wall Street Journal editorial scolded: "We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President."
- Walls as a weapon ... Trump tweeted last Sunday: "President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound." The WashPost reported: "Obamas' neighbors [said] there is no such wall. The 8,200-square-foot structure, despite several security features, is completely visible from the street."
- At the Cabinet meeting, Trump said: "[T]he Vatican has the biggest wall of them all." Dan Scavino, Trump's director of social media, had tweeted during the campaign: "Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls." The N.Y. Times reports: "Vatican City has walls, but they do not enclose the entire territory and visitors can easily enter some parts."
- Also during the Cabinet meeting, per the N.Y. Times, "Trump mocked India for doing no more in Afghanistan than building a library, which generated ... head scratching [in New Delhi] because, according to Indian news media, the country has not built a library in Afghanistan in many years."
- And then there's the president's depiction of how tariffs work. "China is paying us tremendous tariffs. We’re getting billions and billions of dollars of money pouring into the Treasury," he said Friday at a Rose Garden news conference. The N.Y. Times points out: "The United States does not send China a bill for the cost of tariffs, which are often passed on to American importers or consumers."
Be smart: The WashPost called the Cabinet meeting "a fact-checking nightmare."
- Better rest up: The president believes he pays no price for escalating inaccuracies, even ones that have been repeatedly debunked. ("Bottomless Pinocchios," the WashPost Fact Checker calls them.)
- With most of his human guardrails gone, the unvetted language of Trump's rallies is once again a staple of his governing.
P.S. ... Trump tweeted last night:
2. Life on the border
"Record numbers of migrant families are streaming into the United States, overwhelming border agents and leaving holding cells dangerously overcrowded with children, many of whom are falling sick," the WashPost's Nick Miroff and David Nakamura report:
- "U.S. agents are bringing dozens of migrants coughing and feverish each day to clinics and hospitals after stays in jam-packed holding cells where children sleep on concrete floors and huddle in plastic sheets for warmth."
"Many immigration judges have been furloughed, deepening dysfunction in a court system crippled by a backlog of nearly 1 million cases," the Post continues.
- "Along the border, U.S. agents and officers are being forced to work indefinitely without pay."
3. Early applications surge at top colleges
"Early applications have been expanding for years, but last month some big-name schools reported record-setting spikes," per the WashPost's Nick Anderson:
- "Totals were up 9 percent at Dartmouth College, 19 percent at Duke University, 21 percent at Brown University."
- "[H]ighly selective colleges and universities often fill a third to half of their first-year classes through early rounds — which makes the regular round even more competitive."
How it works: "[C]olleges want students who definitely want them. It helps fill classes (and varsity sports teams). By contrast, students admitted during the regular round, who might have multiple offers, are less likely to enroll."
- "The first major wave of admission decisions comes in mid-December. ... That means some early applicants can relax during winter break."
- "The overall admission rate at Harvard was 4.6 percent for the class entering in 2018. But the rate for early applicants Harvard admitted last month was 13.4 percent."
"Some counselors worry the trend is widening the divide between haves and have-nots."
- "Many students need to compare financial aid offers and weigh whether to take out loans."
Bonus: Shutdown pic
4. Best weekend read: Treat yourself
Very few articles fully deliver, but here's one that totally does. One of the most interesting pieces to post over the holidays was a profile of Mark Burnett — creator of "The Apprentice," the long-running NBC reality show that built Donald Trump's fame in middle America — by The New Yorker's Patrick Radden Keefe:
"How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success ... With 'The Apprentice,' the TV producer mythologized Trump — then a floundering D-lister — as the ultimate titan, paving his way to the Presidency":
- "[T]he entire premise of 'The Apprentice' was ... something of a con. ... 'The Apprentice' portrayed Trump ... as a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth — a titan who always seemed to be climbing out of helicopters or into limousines."
- "When producers were searching for office space in which to stage the show, he vetoed every suggestion, then mentioned that he had an empty floor available in Trump Tower, which he could lease at a reasonable price." The producers took it.
"At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be 'fired.' But ... Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well."
- "Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump."
- "[T]he editors were often obliged to 'reverse engineer' the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense."
5. Warren seeks early advantage
During her first full day in Iowa, Sen. Elizabeth Warren made clear her campaign will be built on the twin themes of economic fairness and government stripped of money's influence, AP's Tom Beaumont reports:
- "Warren argued that opportunities like hers have vanished because wealthy interests have bent policy makers in Washington to their will."
- Warren: "This is corruption, pure and simple."
"Even when Sioux City Democrat Tricia Currans-Sheehan asked her why she submitted to a DNA test after Trump questioned Warren's claim of Native American ancestry," Warren tried to stick to her message.
- Warren said 2020 won't be "about my family. It's about the tens of millions of families across this country who just want a level playing field."
"[J]oining her in Iowa was Joe Rospars, a recent Warren hire who was Barack Obama’s digital strategist during his successful 2008 and 2012 campaigns."
- The Wall Street Journal's Reid Epstein tweeted that on Friday night, Warren had a "full advance staff and 100+ journalists in tow."
P.S. ... Just as a Boston Globe editorial suggested Warren stay on the bench, Vermont's capital newspaper, the Times Argus of Montpelier, posts a "Don't run" editorial: "Bernie Sanders should not run for president. In fact, we beg him not to."
6. 1 fish thing
A 612-pound bluefin tuna sold for a record $3 million at the first tuna auction of the year at Tokyo’s new fish market, the N.Y. Times' Megan Specia reports:
- "[D]ozens of buyers walked along row after row of giant tuna, examining the fish before making their bids."
- The winner — Kiyoshi Kimura, the self-styled "King of Tuna," who runs the Sushi Zanmai chain of restaurants — paid around $4,900 per pound.