Watching well-regarded TV journalists this morning hand Kellyanne Conway multiple opportunities to skirt a basic question — as if she will ever admit an administration wrongdoing — was painful. It takes me back to my days as a rookie reporter at a small-town newspaper, when I learned that you can’t make someone tell the truth.
Based on a City Hall record keeper’s tip, I obtained invoices showing the law requiring bids for construction work was dodged by having the contractor submit piecemeal invoices all just below the competitive bidding threshold. I arranged to meet with the contractor to hear firsthand his essential side to the story.
Hours later, I was back in the newsroom, in tears. The contractor would not admit the obvious. He would not tell the truth. He Kellyanne Conwayed me, back when the President’s Spinner in Chief was in grade school.
My editor straightened me out: The contractor’s answer is his answer. Report the comments and contrast them with what the documents show. That’s how you tell the truth.
I learned that lesson 40 years ago as a Jimmy Olsen at The Saratogian. But the same type of truth evasion still happens, to experienced reporters at the nation’s largest news organizations.
This weekend the New York Times reported – and Donald Trump Jr. himself tweeted — that two weeks after his father clinched the GOP nomination, Trump Jr. met with a Russian national, bringing along brother-in-law and presidential adviser Jared Kushner and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, based on a promise of compromising information about Hillary Clinton. These conflict with Trump Jr.’s own earlier statements flat out denying any such campaign-related meeting.
Watch video of ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos and CNN anchor and reporter Christopher Cuomo this morning trying to get Trump counselor Conway to address this news.
Stephanopoulos and Cuomo repeatedly told viewers and Conway, to no avail, the issues are that the meeting occurred and was not disclosed, both actions possibly at odds with federal laws. Conway ignored their questions with non-stop irrelevant responses, pooh-poohing the meeting because, according to Trump Jr., the promised campaign dirt didn’t materialize.
Maybe I should be on the verge of tears again, given the flat-out refusal of the media-bashing administration to tell the truth. I am frustrated, angry and, to take a word from President Trump, sad.
Please, 24-hour TV news: Report what happened. Report the (albeit inane official) response. Report why it matters. Repeat as needed, putting it in context. But stop asking the same questions over and over hoping for a different outcome. That’s a definition of insanity, and it’s driving me crazy.