Yet the president also complained about a New York Times article published two days earlier.
“I think our secretary of state, despite the fact that the New York Times said he was missing — he was in North Korea — but I think our secretary of state has done a fantastic job,” Trump said. “Mike [Pompeo], did you know that you were missing? They couldn’t find you. They couldn’t find him. They couldn’t find him because he was in North Korea.”
Trump had criticized the same article on Twitter roughly eight hours earlier, after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a media briefing that “the New York Times accused the secretary of state for being AWOL — AWOL — when he was flying across the globe to bring three Americans home. That is an outrageous claim.”
The Failing New York Times criticized Secretary of State Pompeo for being AWOL (missing), when in fact he was flying to North Korea. Fake News, so bad!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2018
In reality, the Times piece did not describe Pompeo as “AWOL” or “missing”; it reported that he was bound for North Korea and expected to return with the detainees.
The criticism contained in the article came from European diplomats who, according to the Times, were “perplexed” and “privately complaining” that Pompeo's trip caused his absence during Trump's announcement on Tuesday that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. The Europeans were frustrated that the United States' top diplomat was occupied at a time when they wanted to discuss next steps in dealing with Iran.
The Times article also noted that in March, when Trump announced his plan to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the secretary of state at the time, Rex Tillerson, was in Africa. The headline read, “At a key moment, Trump's top diplomat is again thousands of miles away.”
Were the Europeans' grievances reasonable? Perhaps not, considering the importance of Pompeo's mission to North Korea. But their views of U.S. diplomacy are surely newsworthy. The White House nevertheless found a way to fault the Times, by mischaracterizing the newspaper's reporting.
Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday night held up the Times article as an example of “abusively biased media.”
On the whole, coverage of the prisoners' release has been positive. I previously noted the credit Trump has received in the media for the progress of negotiations with North Korea. But the president's latest shot at the New York Times shows that almost anything can spark a media fight.