President Trump's vulgar appraisal of Haiti and African nations was not the top story on Sean Hannity's Fox News show Thursday night. Or the second. Or the third. Hannity managed to ignore the president's remark about “shithole countries” for the first 25 minutes of his program.
Breitbart News, in an early indication of how it will cover Trump without Stephen K. Bannon at the helm, cast doubt on whether the president actually made the “alleged comments,” first reported by The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey. A Breitbart headline referred to a “shithole of fake news,” even though the White House did not dispute the comments Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Daily Caller editorialized that Trump had “expressed a sentiment many Americans share on the subject. Why does America's immigration intake appear more like a burden to its citizenry than a benefit? Why don't we prioritize the best and brightest for entry instead of anyone liberals shame us to accept? Are not Haiti, El Salvador and other third-world countries pretty bad places?”
Ignore, deny, defend: Trump's media boosters are running a familiar playbook. Maybe he didn't really say what he reportedly said. Even if he did, it is no big deal and is hardly worth anyone's attention. And if it is worth attention, that is only because he boldly declared something politically-correct wimps are too afraid to say out loud.
The genius of this tiered strategy is that it offers Trump supporters a suite of personalized rationalizations. For the “fake news” aficionado, there is the total-denial package. For the immigration hard-liner, there is the unfiltered-truth package.
But why choose when you can have more than one, just like Fox News's Jesse Watters?
“I think it's either fake news or, if it's true, this is how the forgotten men and women in America talk at the bar,” Watters said on Thursday night. “This is how Trump relates to people. If you're at a bar in Wisconsin and you are thinking they are bringing in a bunch of Haiti people or El Salvadorians [sic] or people from Niger, this is how some people talk. Is it graceful? No. Is it polite or delicate? Absolutely not. Is it a little offensive? Of course it is. But you know what? This doesn't move the needle at all. This is who Trump is. He doesn't care. He shoots from the hip. And if he offends some people, fine. There are so many more offensive things that are happening in this world.”
Watters presented a bit of everything there. He suggested The Post's report could be “fake news.” He granted permission to ignore what Trump said because, hey, “there are so many more offensive things that are happening in this world.” And he validated Trump's language and viewpoint as in-line with those of “the forgotten men and women in America.”
Any way you slice it, what Trump said (or didn't say) is totally fine!
Trump, for his part, is ordering the total-denial package.