Longworth, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt and a longtime Washington socialite, was known for her sharp-edged wit and for saying, “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.” Another’s pain is especially savory if the person being turned on the spit happens to be a fellow journalist. I’m not sure why, but you can trust me on this. Anyone hoping to discover who his or her “real” friends are when it’s your turn in the barrel is bound to be disappointed.
Which is why I am eager to defend Jennifer Griffin, the Fox News military reporter whom President Trump has targeted for firing. Though she has plenty of friends at Fox News, several of whom have commented on her behalf, Griffin deserves a robust endorsement from all her colleagues. I’ve followed her closely for more than a decade, and I can say without qualm that she’s as good as it gets — a solid, hard-working, fair-minded journalist and, as others have said, a class act.
Yet, the most powerful person in the entire world has decided to make her Public Enemy No. 1. All media are the enemy to Trump, as we know, but singling out an individual reporter for punitive action is tantamount to making her a target at a time when everybody has a short fuse.
Griffin’s offense was confirming some of the allegations published last week by the Atlantic of derogatory remarks Trump had made about members of the U.S. military killed in action. The article, by Atlantic editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg, concerned a 2018 trip to Paris when Trump canceled a planned visit to the World War I Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. Trump, according to Goldberg’s sources, said the graves belonged to “suckers” and “losers.”
Based on her own reporting, Griffin tweeted that two former senior Trump administration officials had confirmed Goldberg’s reporting that “President Trump disparaged veterans and did not want to drive to honor American war dead at Aisne-Marne Cemetery outside Paris.” She also tweeted that, according to one former senior Trump administration official, “When the President spoke about the Vietnam War, he said, ‘It was a stupid war. Anyone who went was a sucker.’ ”
Appearing Friday on Bret Baier’s Fox News show, Griffin said she wasn’t able to confirm the “suckers” and “losers” remark, which doesn’t necessarily mean the president didn’t use those terms. It does mean that Griffin is the sort of reporter who doesn’t repeat quotes or accusations that she, herself, can’t confirm. Goldberg, also a highly respected journalist, quoted anonymous sources in his article, which, though sometimes risky, is both common and understandable given the sensitivity of the subject.
Reporters often have to agree to confidential interviews to get information that otherwise wouldn’t be available. This is why legendary Post editor Ben Bradlee insisted on two confirmations before unattributed information could go to print, a gold standard made famous during the Watergate era and, thereafter, in the movie “All the President’s Men.”
Trump’s history of seeking deferments from military service during the Vietnam War — and his long-ago remark that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases during the 1990s was “his” Vietnam — make the Goldberg story all the more plausible. Moreover, such dismissive remarks are consistent with Trump’s comment a few years ago that Sen. John McCain was a hero only because he was captured. “I like people that weren’t captured,” Trump said to the applause of no one.
In a normal world, a man like Trump couldn’t get elected to the PTA, much less the White House. But these are far from normal times, thanks in part to the man charged with defending a Constitution he seems so often to abhor. The job of journalists, meanwhile, is to hold people in power accountable, which reporters such as Griffin and Goldberg have done with honesty and accountability throughout their respective and exceptional careers.
A president or political leader with nothing to hide has no reason to fear — nor need to demonize — the press. If some people wonder whether the president of the United States truly used “losers” and “suckers” to describe men and women who died at the behest of their own commander in chief, they might also ask, Why is Donald Trump so afraid?
If you’re stumped, please do sit next to me. The answer is a dilly.