In an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show this morning, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cited the work for former CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson in responding to a backlash over his statements on Saturday about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “Sharyl Attkisson, the highly respected reporter … said I said four times that McCain is a war hero,” said Trump in an interview with Matt Lauer — another session in which he slammed the media for failing to properly characterize his statements.
Whether Trump said McCain is or is not a war hero is now a matter of debate in the U.S. media, a sure indication that it’s summertime in a non-election year.
To recap: At the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Trump found himself in a slightly testy exchange with interviewer and pollster Frank Luntz. The real-estate mogul ripped McCain for having labeled as “crazies” the crowd that Trump whipped up in a previous appearance in Arizona. On a rant, Trump noted that he’d supported McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “He lost, so I never liked him as much after that ’cause I don’t like losers,” said Trump.
LUNTZ: He’s a war hero.
TRUMP: He’s not a war hero.
LUNTZ: He’s a war hero. Five-and-a-half years in a POW camp.
TRUMP: He is a war hero ’cause he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, okay — I hate to tell you.
LUNTZ: You hear that?
TRUMP: He’s a war hero because he was captured, okay? And I believe perhaps he’s a war hero but right now he’s said some very bad things about a lot of people.
Here are some of the statements that can be supported based on the back-and-forth:
*Trump said McCain is a war hero.
*Trump said McCain is not a war hero.
*Trump said McCain is perhaps a war hero.
*Trump questioned McCain’s status as a war hero.
*The Huffington Post was right to have moved Trump coverage to its entertainment section.
In any case, it’s hard to fault the media for abridging Trump’s remarks as denying McCain his war-hero status. After all, Trump made clear that he didn’t have much regard for the rationale under which McCain is regarded as a war hero. The key quote: “He is a war hero ’cause he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, okay — I hate to tell you.”
And that point gets us to the Attkisson defense cited by Trump in his Lauer interview. In a fact-check of a Washington Post story, Attkisson wrote, “It’s true that Trump stated one time that McCain is not a war hero. But Trump stated four times that McCain is a war hero — and that was not accurately characterized in the article.” Attkisson will anchor a Sunday show for Sinclair Broadcast Group starting this fall.
In what can only be an innocent oversight, Attkisson failed to take into account Trump’s sarcasm — which undermined nearly all statements he made in favor of McCain’s war-hero standing.