Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel appeared at the National Press Club on Monday for a chat about his preferred presidential candidate — Donald Trump — and his central role on bringing about the shuttering of Gawker, among other topics. As CNN has taught us, it is impossible to stick up for Trump without veering into wholly untenable and far-fetched arguments. Even though Thiel is more thoughtful and measured than the Trumpites on cable news, he failed to avoid this dynamic.
Thomas Burr, president of the National Press Club, asked Thiel what he thought about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim entry into the United States. Showing a bit of independent thinking, Thiel responded that he doesn’t support a “religious test” and expressed misgivings with Trump’s language. Then came the defense: “But I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media always has taken Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.”
It’s quite the opposite for Trump voters, argued Thiel: “I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally. And so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment or things like that, the question is not ‘Are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China?’ or, you know, ‘How exactly are you going to enforce these tests?’ What they hear is ‘We’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy.’ ‘We’re going to try to figure out how do we strike the right balance between costs and benefits.’ ”
The Erik Wemple Blog, who was in attendance at the event, was unsure how to interpret all that. Is Thiel actually recommending that the media not take literally the things that Trump says? Should we ask voters what Trump is saying, and then report that material as fact? One thing is for sure: If you do take Trump literally, it becomes very hard to take him seriously. In any case, it does appear that Thiel has been reading The Atlantic.
We would have liked to press Thiel on this front, but that wasn’t happening. Burr, who presided over the event and posed some quite-good questions, asked attending press to wait while Thiel left the room following the Q-and-A. Then, the media was kept from exiting the room for several minutes. We asked Burr about this approach. His response:
Today’s event followed the long-standing format at the Press Club for the president to ask questions of our high-profile guests. This is done with the aim of ensuring a wide variety of questions are asked. We have often tried to accommodate guests who wish to leave because of scheduling conflicts right after our programs and that was done in this case. Quite often, I’ve seen reporters stake out spots outside the room or outside the building in anticipation they could ask follow up questions.
Can’t have follow-ups!