The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The media stumbles in covering Trump

President Trump in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 6. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

President Trump engaged in a post-impeachment trial event — a rant really — at the White House. He appeared unhinged, angry and resentful in what was billed as a speech but amounted to a disjointed stream of consciousness. The diatribe lasted more than an hour in the East Room of the White House, not normally the setting for a political harangue. To the consternation, I am sure, of Republicans such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who expressed the belief that Trump had learned his lesson (she later said it was “aspirational”), he was not contrite. More important, he was not composed nor in control of himself.

He struck out at Democrats as “evil,” “vicious” and “corrupt” people; expressed anger that “nothing happens” to Hillary Clinton (the Justice Department found no grounds for anything); called the FBI “scum" and “dirty cops”; weirdly recounted in gruesome terms the shooting of Republican House whip Steve Scalise (R-La.); and took a veiled swipe at Hunter Biden. (With not a shred of self-awareness, he declared, “They think that’s okay, because if it is — is Ivanka in the audience? Is Ivanka here? — boy, my kids could make a fortune. They could make a fortune. It’s corrupt.” They have, and it is.)

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He lashed out at Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for praying for him. (”She may pray, but she prays for the opposite,” Trump said. “But, I doubt she prays at all.”) He demonized Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), whom he grotesquely accused of using "religion as a crutch.” That’s quite a statement about a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints coming from a twice-divorced philanderer who paid off an adult film star with whom he allegedly had an affair just months after his wife gave birth. No president has ever attacked people of faith as he does. It would be enlightening if the media confronted his evangelical defenders, thereby not allowing the deeply hypocritical attacks on faith go unremarked.

Throughout the appearance, Trump seethed with resentment, resorting to vulgarity (“It was all bullshit,” he said of impeachment) and insisting (sorry, Sen. Collins) that he did nothing wrong. Fury and vindictiveness oozed from every pore. Seeing the commander in chief in full rage-mode, plainly willing — and eager, even — to wreak vengeance on his critics should be deeply disturbing, particularly to the party that just rationalized acquitting him.

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In something from the Soviet Union’s old communist party playbook, he encouraged his Republican allies to stand and say nice things about him. It was one of many deeply weird moments.

The New York Times noted:

The president’s angry performance was the diametrical opposite of how President Bill Clinton reacted to his own acquittal after a Senate impeachment trial in 1999. On the day he was cleared of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, Mr. Clinton appeared alone in the Rose Garden, avoided any gloating, apologized for his part in leading to the conflict and called for reconciliation.

In other words, Clinton behaved like a composed, sane adult.

And yet, after this eye-popping performance, you will see mildly worded headlines describing Trump as holding a “celebration” for his acquittal. The effort to cast Trump in a setting of normalcy seems unabated, no matter how inappropriate to the events playing out before our eyes (which the vast majority of Americans do not witness live). CNN’s John Harwood was a noteworthy exception. “It was dark because he’s made clear that his mind is dark,” he said from his White House beat. “This is somebody in deep psychological distress right now.”

It is incumbent on the media to inform the public when the president behaves in such an aberrant manner. Indeed, it misleads readers and viewers to cast the event as an innocuous “celebration.” The media have struggled to appear “balanced” and objective in an era in which the president behaves in shocking and unprecedented ways. They need to find a language to convey vividly the unhinged anger and obsession with retribution that Trump occasionally unleashes in public.

Pundits and reporters who lament this erosion in decorum are wildly missing the point, says Post opinion writer Greg Sargent. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Ruth Marcus: No, Susan Collins, Trump is never going to learn

The Post’s View: It’s not over. Congress must continue to hold Trump accountable.

Alexandra Petri: The important thing about impeachment is we all had fun and learned a lesson

The latest commentary on the Trump impeachment

Looking for more Trump impeachment coverage following the president’s acquittal?

See Dana Milbank’s Impeachment Diary: Find all the entries in our columnist’s feature.

Get the latest: See complete Opinions coverage from columnists, editorial cartoonists and the Editorial Board.

Read the most recent take from the Editorial Board: It’s not over. Congress must continue to hold Trump accountable.

The House impeachment managers weigh in in an op-ed: Trump won’t be vindicated. The Senate won’t be, either.

Stay informed: Read the latest reporting and analysis on impeachment from the Post newsroom.

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