Accuracy in Media

That was no reasoned critique of the failure of American cities under Democratic rule. Rather, it was President Donald Trump letting his temper get the best of him with his Saturday tweets attacking Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and his stewardship of Baltimore, and his allies have been squirming ever since, according to a story Tuesday in the Washington Post.

The story – “Looking for a reason to attack’: How Trump seized on a Fox News broadcast to go after Cummings,” by Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa — is based on 18 unnamed sources who “spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid assessments.”

Such stories – broad assertions against the administration based on dozens of anonymous sources – have become commonplace for the Post during the Trump era, as documented here, here and here.

And they have gotten reporters in trouble before – a memorable one was the story in the New York Times shortly after Trump took office saying that he watched TV in his bathrobe; the president immediately pointed out he didn’t even own a bathrobe. That presented a serious challenge to the credibility of the reporters involved – Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, but the paper appears not to have been discouraged in the least from the practice.

Same with the Post. In Tuesday’s story – based on sources that aren’t even identified as staff, officials or members of Trump’s family – the Post team asserted in its lead that “President Trump was already seething about Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.

“He was frustrated that the oversight committee Cummings chairs authorized a subpoena last week that could sweep up emails from his daughter and son-in-law. He was annoyed that Cummings stood alongside Democratic leaders discussing the possibility of impeachment following testimony by the former special counsel.

“And he was particularly incensed when the longtime Democratic lawmaker lambasted Trump’s acting head of Homeland Security over reports from the border of ‘a child is sitting in their own feces, can’t take a shower.’”

Because of all this, the one person identified as a “senior White House official” said Trump “’was looking for a reason to attack.’”

That reason, according to the Post, came shortly after 6 a.m. on Saturday, when “Kimberly Klacik, a Baltimore-area Republican who is black, appeared on ‘Fox & Friends’ talking about video footage she had taken depicting Cummings’s district as overrun by trash and blight.”

An hour later, it said, Trump unleashed his series of tweets accusing Cummings of neglecting his district to hound the president.

“Trump’s sustained attacks against Cummings reveal the extent to which president stokes a grudge, immerses himself in Fox News and spews back its more right-wing content into the world – forcing his allies to scramble to respond,” the Post wrote. In picking a fight with Cummings, Trump “again dragged both his party and the nation into another round of racial animus that, 16 months from Election Day, threatens to shape – if not totally overwhelm – the 2020 campaign.”

Trump did not mention race in his tweets. Other tweets he sent at the time not only didn’t involve Klacik, they condemned Nancy Pelosi for similarly neglecting her San Francisco district as it has descended into homelessness and human excrement in the streets.  None of these motivations are accounted for in the Post article.

Not all the sources in the Post story were anonymous. It quoted Rudy Giuliani and Trump campaign official Tim Murtaugh supporting the tweets. But it also quoted John Kasich, former governor of Ohio and neverTrumper, saying “Every day, you shake your head. Attacking a major city is like nothing we’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen this kind of behavior and rhetoric.”

It quoted three U.S. senators – mics shoved in their faces as they walked in the Capitol – telling the Post to make an appointment if it wants an interview. And it quoted Anthony Scaramucci, who served as Trump’s communications director for 11 tumultuous days, saying, “While I’m his friend and his friends know he’s not racist, he’s the leader of the free world. That mantle of leadership requires him to be as far from racism as possible.”

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