Media critic

In the early days of the Trump administration, White House press secretary Sean Spicer found a use for Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano. In one of his more famous tweets, President Trump in March 2017 alleged that President Barack Obama “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.” That claim took a beating among the fact-checkers.

At a White House briefing, however, Spicer made a valiant attempt at standing up the falsehood. He did this in part by citing a segment from Napolitano that aired on the March 14, 2017, edition of “Fox & Friends”: “Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command," said the former New Jersey Superior Court judge. “He didn’t use the NSA. He didn’t use the CIA. He didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ. What the heck is GCHQ? That’s the initials for the British spying agency. They have 24-7 access to the NSA database.”

A GCHQ spokesperson called Napolitano’s reporting “utterly ridiculous.” Fox News anchor Shepard Smith told viewers that the network’s news side couldn’t confirm Napolitano’s contention. When Trump was subsequently challenged on the flimsy assertion that Obama was using the Brits to spy on Trump, he said: "I didn’t make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox, so you shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”

Bolding added to highlight a change in Napolitano’s standing at the White House.

That “very dumb” legal argument has been making the rounds. Based on the extensive discussion of Trump’s obstructive activities in the Mueller report, Napolitano said, “Prosecutors prosecute people who interfere with government functions and that’s what the president did by obstruction. Where is this going to end? I don’t know, but I am disappointed in the behavior of the president,” Napolitano said on the digital show “Judge Napolitano’s Chambers.”

“If he had ordered his aides to violate federal law to save a human life or to preserve human freedom,” Napolitano continued, "he would at least have a moral defense to his behavior. But ordering them to break federal law to save him from the consequences of his own behavior, that is immoral, that is criminal, that is defenseless, that is condemnable.”

Such views on Trump’s attempts to derail special counsel Robert S. Mueller III aren’t hard to find. Democrats on Capitol Hill commonly offer them, as do other commentators on cable news. It makes sense, in light of the long list of actions that Trump took — or attempted to take — against the Mueller team.

The trouble for Trump is that the particular person making this argument is a fellow that Trump himself has credentialed. Not only did Trump call Napolitano a “very talented lawyer” but he also tweeted in agreement with other Napolitano thoughts over the years, such as this one from earlier this year:

And another point of agreement back in 2018:

These outbursts highlight the astonishing, shocking, never-before-reported reality of Trump’s media criticism: It’s not guided by evenly applied principles and standards. Rather, it hinges on what’s favorable and unfavorable to Trump himself. Who would have supposed?

Surely Trump grows frustrated that he can’t exert the same sort of control over Napolitano that he does over “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” But his haphazard commentary on media outlets extends across the board. When it suits his purposes, for instance, Trump doesn’t hesitate to call the New York Times “fake news," yet when it publishes something that pleases the president — like a recent piece documenting credibility questions about the famed Russian dossier — he cites it without reservation. As Politico reports in a recent piece, Trump adores New York Times photographer Doug Mills to the point that he once told foreign leaders at a Group of 7 conference, "He’s the No. 1 photographer in the world. Unfortunately, he works for the New York Times.”

Trump made a personal request for prints of Mills’s work:

When the president’s prints arrived, he and Mills met for a brief exchange in the Oval Office, according to three people familiar with the meeting. And in a rare show of approbation for a member of the mainstream media, Trump personally thanked Mills for his work.

Again: Narcissism above all.