CNN commentator and Donald Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes said Wednesday that the president-elect has not denounced his white-nationalist supporters except when asked  because he does not want to amplify their message. A bigger problem than Trump's silence, Hughes suggested, is the media's coverage of “a small, evil, minute society.”

An alt-right conference in Washington last weekend drew “at least 50" reporters, according to The Washington Post's John Woodrow Cox, who was among them. An Atlantic magazine journalist filmed some conference attendees performing Nazi salutes as alt-right leader Richard Spencer boomed: “Hail Trump. Hail our people. Hail victory.”

Trump did not comment publicly on the scene until he was asked about it Tuesday by New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet.

“I just saw that today,” Trump said. “I don't want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” he added.

Notably, Trump moved much faster to condemn the political commentary of a “Hamilton” actor who on Saturday implored Vice President-elect Mike Pence “to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

Attendees of an alt-right conference on Nov. 19 shouted "hail Trump!" The Washington Post's David Weigel explains the connection between the president-elect and the group that seeks a whites-only state. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Referring to white nationalists, Hughes said on CNN on Wednesday that Trump “does not want to give this group of horrible, hateful people any more attention than . . . the 75 members of the media that showed up at this conference in Washington, D.C., that only had 285 evil people attending it. Seventy-five members of the media showed up to cover this conference, looking  basically salivating over something they could use to incite this racist argument against Mr. Trump.”

CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota interjected to suggest that the news media was “trying to shine a light on something repugnant.” Hughes countered that ignoring white-nationalist support is a more effective strategy. Trump, she said, is “making it go away by not giving it any attention.”

Moments later, Camerota's co-anchor, Chris Cuomo, put his finger on one of the flaws in Hughes's defense of Trump. “Your argument makes perfect sense,” he said, “if you're talking about someone who has ever done that before” — as in, ever decided that keeping his mouth shut is the best way to prevent something ugly from escalating.

“This man never is subtle,” Cuomo said of Trump. “When he wants to go after something, he calls you out by name, he makes a big deal, and he makes sure everybody knows it. Not on this. Not on this, and you know it.”

Indeed, Trump will continue to open himself to media criticism as long as his outspokenness on something innocuous, such as a message from the cast of “Hamilton,” stands in contrast to his silence on something truly troubling, such as Nazi salutes in his name.

The alternative right has come under fire from Hillary Clinton and establishment Republicans, but it has been seeping into American politics for years as a far-right option for conservatives. Here's what you need to know about the alt-right movement. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)