There was nothing glorious about President Trump’s short speech Monday morning in reaction to the massacre that unfolded Sunday night in Las Vegas. There was plenty of language that has become grimly standard in situations like this one: “My fellow Americans, we are joined together today in sadness, shock and grief,” said the president. He went on to thank law enforcement for their quick actions. And he searched for optimism. “It is our love that defines us today and always will forever,” Trump said. Also: “Our bonds cannot be broken by violence.”
Nor was there anything embarrassing or dismal about the presentation. No big blunders, though the speech had that hollow feel that accompanies scripted presentations from Trump.
It was just fine.
On CNN, though, it was a marvel of possibly historic proportions. “Look, pitch perfect from the president right there,” said John King, anchor and chief national correspondent for CNN. “I’m sure already there are some people out there because of the polarized environment we live in who won’t like something they heard or won’t trust something they heard or won’t find truthfulness or credibility in something their president just said. I would hope that they would take a breath and let the president have his piece here, in the sense that he came out, he said he wanted to unify the country.”
There was no asterisk on King’s words to indicate that he was grading on the curve. Nor does the “polarized environment” bear the blame for the president’s lack of credibility. His lies and untruths do.
The gusher from King didn’t finish there. He continued, “I don’t think, whatever your politics are, there’s anything you can take issue with what we just heard from the president of the United States. We’d be talking about something much different about the Trump presidency had this not happened. I guess my only question is: Because of that, because of where we began before this shooting, how do people who don’t agree with the president on just about anything else process this? As someone who covered the White House for 10 years, through two different presidents, who’s been in town for almost 30 years now, that was pitch perfect.”
Agreement followed King’s assessment. Host Poppy Harlow said, “This is the time to bring the country together — that is exactly, John King, what the president did with those remarks. This is not a time for politics, nor did he inject them at all in those remarks.”
Jeff Zeleny, when his analytical turn came up, said, “The president clearly, as John said, striking a pitch-perfect tone.”
And analyst David Chalian: “That’s everything you would want to hear from a president of the United States, everything that you wanted to hear there. I agree with what John and Jeff were saying — this was certainly pitch perfect.”
There was an echo in all of this analysis, and it stemmed from the early days of this administration. After Trump acknowledged the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL in an address to a joint session of Congress, CNN’s Van Jones said, “He became president of the United States in that moment, period.” Such “presidential” assessments issued over this Trump speech or that Trump speech have become a thing to watch for in the U.S. media:
Who will win the ignominious “he sounded presidential” prize this time?
— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) October 2, 2017
Trump's teleprompter statement on the Vegas massacre was spot-on presidential
— Jackie Calmes (@jackiekcalmes) October 2, 2017
Speeches provide journalists from mainstream organizations a remarkable opportunity to render a positive judgment on a man who is patently unfit to discharge the duties of his office. These are confined and discrete moments that, in the view of the Beltway crew, can be assessed in isolation. And on Monday morning’s presentation on CNN — an outfit constantly under the gun for supposedly biased coverage of Trump — there appeared to be a considerable effort to take advantage of that opportunity.
There’s a cable-news malady at play here, as well. When you’re a 24-7 news network, nothing seems as important as the presidential address that just took place, or the congressional vote that just took place, or the Ted Cruz news conference that’s about to take place. So, no: President Trump didn’t just unify this massively divided country. He gave a decent speech.