I was on Fox News Media Buzz on Sunday to talk about two stories concerning the media and the President. First was fake news reporting that the President had had a stroke last fall, and the second is how the media went berserk when the President pointed out an obvious weakness in mailing voting, which the media has been pushing for months.
KURTZ: It began with New York Times correspondent Michael Schmidt reporting in a new book that when President Trump made that unscheduled visit to Walter Reed last fall, Vice President Pence was told to be on standby in case anaesthesia was used.
The president responded on Twitter, now they are trying to say that your favorite president, me, went to Walter Reed Medical Center, having suffered a series of mini-strokes, never happened to this candidate, fake news, perhaps they are referring to another candidate from another party.
When CNN analyst Joe Lockhart, the former Clinton White House press secretary, asked on Twitter whether the president had suffered a stroke, the Trump campaign called for him to be fired.
Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Gayle Trotter, host of the “Right in DC” podcast, and Mara Liasson, national political reporter for NPR and a Fox News contributor.
Gayle, the president going off on fake news by denying he had a stroke. But no one in the media accused him of having a stroke. He did say that it was not true that vice president had been put on standby. Mike Pence says he doesn’t remember that.
So, isn’t it Donald Trump with his denials that pushed the story into the media stratosphere?
GAYLE TROTTER, COMMENTATOR, HOST OF “RIGHT IN DC” PODCAST: No. It is surprising how much traction the story got because that was based on hearsay if not outright manufactured about this visit in the first place. Presidents go to the doctor and there was scant evidence that there was anything unusual about this trip.
I think the significance of this story is that if there is anything, it shows the media echo chamber and the lengths that they can go to invent stories out of thin air.
KURTZ: Well, Mara, I was critical four years ago when Donald Trump and some media conservatives were practically portraying Hillary Clinton as being on her death bed.
MARA LIASSON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER FOR NPR: Yeah.
KURTZ: So now, I’m going to turn it around and ask the question, should Joe Lockhart, you know, obviously long term Democrat on CNN, be raising questions about whether President Trump had a stroke? Again, none of the original stories said he had a stroke or mini-stroke.
LIASSON: Yeah. Look, there are many, many things we can accuse the media, which is not one monolithic thing, of. But this is not one of them because Michael Schmidt did not say the president went to Walter Reed because he had some mini-strokes.
I would hope every time the president, any president, goes to the hospital, that the vice president is told that’s happening. You know, if he needs anaesthesia or whatever, you’re going to be on standby.
But Joe Lockhart is not a journalist and what Joe Lockhart was doing was what operatives of both parties and Donald Trump as the foremost practitioner of this, say, oh, some people say Hillary Clinton is dying, hmm, some people say Joe Biden takes what did he call them, enhancements, some kind of enhancement drug for his senility.
I think the stories I read about this were stories that pointed out that no one in the media accused the president of having a mini-stroke. I think he overreacted and he gave this story legs that it originally shouldn’t have had or it didn’t have.
KURTZ: And part of the legs to use your term was banner headline on the Drudge Report. We can put this up. The president denies mini-strokes. And Gayle, the president accused Drudge of not supporting him and said, oh, he’s doing poorly, actually he’s got record breaking traffic.
But, you know, I don’t think Drudge is in love with the president, but it is news, and how can you not cover many of the controversies that President Trump is involved in?
TROTTER: The attending physician said that it was completely a fake. So, these allegations made, if Mara wants to talk about the mainstream media being political operatives, I would agree with that. And in this case, President Trump is pointing out yet again mistreatment by the mainstream media.
LIASSON: I never said that.
KURTZ: OK. Just to clarify what Mara Liasson said, there are political operatives who work for all the cable networks who do what operatives do.
KURTZ: That he is not a journalist.
LIASSON: He is not a journalist, yeah.
KURTZ: Also talking about all journalists. All right, I want to move on now because I mentioned this with Erin Perrine in the last segment. The president’s comments, we’re going to show you from North Carolina, about what voters should do on this question of mail ballots. Roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So, let them send it in and let them go vote. And if their system is as good as they say it is, then, obviously, they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote. So that’s the way it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, many journalists went haywire over this, saying the president is telling people to vote twice, this is illegal, it is a felony. Is it any surprise given the wording the president used that this caused a media firestorm?
TROTTER: The media can’t have it both ways. This is exposing their very effort to have it both ways because they’ve spent months telling the American voters that mail-in balloting is secure and yet when the president points out an obvious weakness in mail-in voting, the media go berserk.
It just shows that there are issues with fraud and coercion with mail-in voting. And if the system is good as the mainstream media has been pushing for months, then if anyone were to try and vote illegally a second time, the system would catch them.
So the president is right to point out this weakness and the media, as I said, is trying to have it both ways and this exposes them for it.
KURTZ: Mara, two-part question, what’s your take on the — go right ahead.
LIASSON: Yeah. In many states, it is illegal to encourage someone to try to vote twice. The president didn’t say vote twice. He said see if you can vote twice as a way to test the system. There are ways to check if your mail-in ballot counted. That’s not one of them.
KURTZ: Let me just jump in and ask you, Mara, as we close this out. Bill Barr sort of fueled the controversy. He went on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and he was asked, and he said, I don’t know specifically what the president was referring to, I don’t know the law in North Carolina, but then making the broader point that mail ballots, he says, is playing with fire.
And so now, of course, all the media fire is trained on the attorney general. Quick thought.
LIASSON: Yeah, there is no evidence that there’s widespread fraud with mail-in balloting. But Bill Barr has consistently echoed the president’s concerns about this election, and I think when Bill Barr says the same thing as the president, it gives it a much greater gravity and weight.
KURTZ: All right. Good discussion.
LIASSON: And therefore should be —
KURTZ: Thank you so much, Gayle Trotter and Mara Liasson.