President Trump hasn’t said anything new about immigration in years. He’s still convinced that a wall is the best measure for border security, that immigrants are criminals and that without strong borders — and steel — you don’t really have a country.
It was no surprise, therefore, that when Trump appeared in the White House briefing room Thursday afternoon for an impromptu talk about contemporary politics, he said nothing new. After some congratulatory words for newly elevated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), he introduced longtime Border Patrol agents. “They’ve done a fantastic job at the border,” he said. The officials voiced support for the wall, funding for which Trump is insisting upon as the government shutdown grinds toward two weeks.
“I just want to talk about some of those criminals that Border Patrol agents apprehend on a daily basis,” said Hector Garza, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council and a Border Patrol officer in Texas. “We’re talking about murderers, rapists, people that commit very serious crimes in this country. ICE has been doing an amazing job in deporting a lot of these people back to their countries. Unfortunately, once we deport these people, these people will not stay in their country. These criminal aliens that have been released from jail that have been deported will come right back into the United States. However, if we had a physical barrier, if we had a wall, we would be able to stop that.” He pleaded for Congress to fund the wall.
Here’s how the cable news networks handled the event:
- MSNBC: Aired the president’s opening remarks but withdrew once the Border Patrol officials started launching their endorsements of the president’s position.
- Fox News: Aired the entire thing live.
- CNN: Aired the entire thing live.
After CNN finished its airing, host Brianna Keilar said, “That was the first briefing room appearance of President Donald Trump, so significant for that factor.”
No, not significant at all! Who cares where Trump and his friends deliver their propaganda? After the session, Trump & Co. left the briefing room without taking questions. A reporter objected out loud, “The point of the briefing room is to take questions."
To her credit, Keilar recognized that her network had been had. “To be clear ... this is a stunt. I mean, this isn’t a briefing. So we thought there was going — it was billed as a last-minute briefing. That was not a briefing," said Keilar, who was right: A White House pool report just after 4 p.m. said that the session would be a “briefing.” “A briefing is questions,” the host continued. "A briefing is more than a political stunt, which is what we just saw.”
We have seen it before, as well. Think back to September 2016, when Trump baited-and-switched the media into attending a broadcast of an informercial for his business, on the premise that it would be a news conference. “We just got played. We just got played,” CNN’s John King said at the time.
The lesson here is: Don’t believe Trump or the White House that he runs. However: We won’t sit here at Erik Wemple Blog HQ and aver that these coverage decisions are easy. They are not. As president, Trump has engaged in an inordinate number of short Q-and-A sessions with reporters. He can always be baited into bantering with the media. This time he did not, and he burned a pair of cable news networks into broadcasting his propaganda session.