The venue was “Hannity.” The goal was to discredit the New York Times and its brethren in the mainstream media. Just that day, the New York Times reported that President Trump in June 2017 had ordered the firing of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
How best to cast shade on that revelation? Among other measures, host Sean Hannity cited wobbliness in previous reporting on the Trump administration. “My good friend Joe Concha just put out a tweet and it reminds us of everything. … Remember … where the New York Times reporters were telling us the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, would be long gone by now. And haven’t we had a number [of] New York Times and Washington Post stories end up being debunked with their phony, you know, anonymous sourcing?”
That was on Jan. 25.
And to some extent the Hannity-Concha connection had a point. Back on Nov. 30, the New York Times — under the bylines of Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman and Gardiner Harris — reported, “The White House has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, whose relationship with President Trump has been strained, and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, perhaps within the next several weeks, senior administration officials said on Thursday.”
Actually, it took 14 weeks and five days for the New York Times’ reporting to be vindicated. On Tuesday, news broke that Trump was replacing Tillerson with Pompeo, exactly as the newspaper had reported. The president tweeted on Tuesday morning:
Trump tweets a lot. Those tweets generally draw a great number of retweets and replies and likes. He is a very successful tweeter. So it’s quite possible that the president doesn’t particularly care if one very popular and news-breaking tweet contradicts a previous popular and news-breaking tweet. Which is precisely the situation that prevails on Tillerson-Pompeo. Following that November New York Times story indicating that Tillerson’s days were numbered, Trump blasted away on Twitter:
Good try, Mr. President. Even when he was seeking to discredit legitimate reporting, Trump couldn’t help but confirm a pillar of the story — namely, his disagreements with Tillerson. As the New York Times reported, “Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have been at odds over a host of major issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, the confrontation with North Korea and a clash between Arab allies.” That, again, was on Nov. 30.
On Tuesday morning, Trump himself told reporters in the aftermath of the Tillerson axing: “We got along actually quite well. But we disagreed on things. When you look at the Iran deal. I think it’s terrible. I guess he — it was okay. I wanted to either break it or do something. And he felt a little bit differently.” Now get this: In the same remarks, Trump tucked in this little revelatory gem. “Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time,” he said. Presumably a “long time” stretches out beyond 14 weeks and five days.
Upshot: In the course of 56 words, Trump confirmed the details of a report that he’d slammed as “fake news.” Which is to say, he’s grossly incompetent at calling out fake news — the thing that he practices the most.