Playboy Politics Statue of Liberty by Luke Stackpoole
Luke Stackpoole

Opinion

Celebrating America the American Way

The heat in D.C. is oppressive in July. The ambient heat of the politicians is amplified by the swampy air temperature creating a stew unlike anything else in the known universe. Practical men avoid this town as one would naturally avoid the gallows, but the press and politicians seem to thrive in the sticky stench.

Those of us basement dwellers who take up space in the bowels of the West Wing press offices get a small respite from the atmospheric heat, but not the sweltering inferno of the Trump administration. “It’s just 9:20 a.m. and I want to go home,” one of the residents shouted on Monday to no one in particular.

The last week of events in the White House seem to portend a not-so-subtle change in the dynamics between the Trump administration and the press corps, which could be indicative of an infected pimple about to explode or the coming of the Apocalypse. The weekly/daily briefing is but one sign of doom. The exasperation of reporters is another, and the exasperation of White House staff members is still another. One of the catalysts for this newfound angst is the death of five employees of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis last week. It brought home the last year and half of anti-media rhetoric and made it far too real for the White House to manage.

Meanwhile, Raj Shah, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and a few others are on the short list to leave the White House as the pressure increases along with mutual rancor. The White House staff, with perhaps the exception of KellyAnne Conway, seems to eye the press with utter contempt, fear or both.
Fewer briefings has led to the press stalking any administration official walking the grounds of the White House with interesting results. Reporters seem to have a preternatural instinct allowing them to, within an instant, know who is wandering free on the North Lawn. Then they swarm like horse flies over fetid elephant droppings and pepper the administration officials with questions.

The staffers are taking advantage of the situation to briefly give non-answers to questions before retreating to the safety of the West Wing. “We have to quit doing this,” more than one reporter has said. “We give them what they want. They use us to say nothing.”

“I’m so over all of this,” another reporter said after last Friday when both Conway and Marc Short used a gaggle to push out some administration gibberish. I hung back from the gaggle. Earlier in the day Conway had shouted my name as we both walked up to the White House. I turned to see her smile and we had a conversation with one other staffer present that can only be labeled pleasant and informative.

So, I didn’t want to jinx it. And I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to ask her. But as she broke free near the portico (an undefined area viewed by the Secret Service as the no-fly zone for reporters and photographers), I stood nearby and, remembering a line from The Silence of the Lambs, I shouted, “Hey, KellyAnne! Love your suit.” She smiled. “Thanks. I’ve had it for 12 years,” she replied.

She was gone after depositing the only real fact the press corps could, but would never, use: she's owned a turquoise dress for 12 years. 
A short time later, short-timer Marc Short made the equally short walk on the North Lawn to the West Wing. I got close to Marc in this one to ask him if he thought the administration’s increasingly heated rhetoric in any way encouraged people to take up violence against reporters. Some believe calling us “fake news” and labeling us an enemy of the people has painted a target on our back. But Marc didn’t see it that way.

He spouted out the administration’s standard denial and blamed liberals for the violence. I changed the subject. “When are we going for a beer short-timer?” I asked. He smiled and playfully punched me in the ribs. “Soon. Soon.”

Meanwhile, back in the bowels of the press room, there was much banter ahead of the Fourth of July holiday. On Friday, reporters were clamoring for Trump to leave and go to Bedminster, N.J. early. “I’m so done. Can’t he just issue a press statement saying he’s gone and leave. We don’t need to even cover him leaving,” one of the print reporters opined.

Someone else started laughing. “When he comes out of the Oval, we can all just wave at him. If he comes over to talk to us we can just say, ‘No that’s okay. Go ahead. Just go.’” That brought some laughter.

Later, Trump said he was upset with the shootings in Annapolis. “My government will not rest until we have done everything in our power to reduce violent crime and to protect innocent life. . . Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.” 
All that’s really left for this administration to do is for someone to shout out “Let them eat cake” before they rip migrant children from their parents.
Then, when CNN’s Jim Acosta asked in an East Room event about an hour later if the president would stop calling the press the enemy of the people, Trump ignored the question.

It’s been that way since day one. Many of us have asked. The president always greets the issue with silence. His staff says the president only has issues with those who write inaccurate stories. In so much as everyone on his staff has lied to the American people on more occasions than I care to count, they have absolutely no credibility on anything, let alone on the president’s feelings about the free press.

Trump himself says he doesn’t like stories that he finds unfavorable. His faux-kingly protestations aside, that may be the most honest thing he’s ever said. If he likes the story, then it isn’t fake news. Anything broadcasted by Fox is the lone exception.

State-run-by-proxy Fox News does its fair share of kowtowing to Trump, but John Roberts and Shepard Smith play it straight, making them perhaps the most important reporter-anchor duo in the world right now. Trump likes Fox and admits Roberts is hard on him. Both Roberts and Smith are seasoned journalists who may be the last bastion of real reporting and anchoring at that network. “I pray for their health every day,” a board member of the White House Correspondents' Association recently joked.
Monday morning Trump returned to D.C. from New Jersey with no plans to brief the press on anything. The last weekly/daily briefing had been a week earlier, so some of us suspected that if the staff was going to update us at all before the holiday, it would be Monday. “I wouldn’t even do one. They don’t want to face the issues we’ll raise,” one reporter said.

“They never do,” came an answer to the seemingly rhetorical statement. The White House, as usual, tried to have it both ways on Monday, announcing a briefing early that morning. On tap was, in no particular order of importance, the shooting in Annapolis and the fallout from the White House not lowering the flag; the 2,000 or so immigrant children at the border who’d been ripped from their parents; the choice for Supreme Court justice to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, Scott Pruitt’s resignation, the Mueller investigation, North Korea, Iran, NATO, a Helsinki summit with Russian president Vlad-the-impaler Putin, the World Trade Organization, China’s tariffs, the trade wars, Harley Davidson, Roe v. Wade, Michael Cohen, Jeff Sessions’ latest scandal, the lingering Puerto Rico problem, General John Kelly’s rumored departure, Bill Shine’s hiring, Sarah Sander’s rumored exit, Raj Shah’s rumored departure, the economy and the six-month anniversary of the tax cuts many say have only benefited the ultra-rich.

Oh yeah, don’t forget Space Force, the latest Betsy DeVos debacle, Mad Man Mick Mulvaney destroying consumer protection and a host of other things I just no longer can keep up with—and neither can anyone else.
Sanders began the briefing late, again, and spent the first five minutes telling us, again, how great the world was now that Donald Trump is our king. She then opened the floor for questions and, as predicted by all of us in attendance, she barely touched on a quarter of the issues facing the administration before she turned and made her exit.

Still mad at me because I’d asked her if she had any empathy for immigrant children being ripped from their parents some two weeks ago, Sanders refused to call on me. So as she left I asked her loudly about those children again. She wouldn’t answer as she left the podium, which was as telling as any jacket ever worn by the First Lady: “I really don’t care. Do you?”

All that’s really left for this administration to do is for someone to shout out “Let them eat cake” before they rip the children from their parents.

By the time we all sat down to enjoy the fireworks on Independence day, the pool reporters assigned to the president on the Fourth of July filed a couple of noteworthy dispatches from the White House.

At 4:52 p.m. on Wednesday: “Pool was escorted onto the South Lawn at 4:50 p.m. for the military families picnic. A gentlemen shouted “fake news” at the pool as others around him guffawed. Guests are dining and listening to a live band.”

Later, Alice Ollstein filed this dispatch: “The first couple stood shoulder-to-shoulder watching the fireworks from the south balcony, periodically waving to the crowd, who waved back enthusiastically. After a performance of "America the Beautiful" accompanying the fireworks finale, the first couple went inside at 9:29 p.m. On his way in, the president pumped both arms in the air while the crowd cheered.”

Meanwhile, a little more than an hour’s drive from Trump (depending on traffic) in Annapolis, the residents of that community, the employees of the Capital Gazette and the family members of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters celebrated the nation’s independence, with the staff of the Gazette leading the city’s Independence Day parade while mourning the loss of their loved ones.The president isn’t responsible for the deaths. The guy who pulled the trigger is. But the president’s sentiment toward the press is as clear as his wife’s jacket: “I really don’t care. Do you?” The heat remains oppressive.

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