Because Most News Coverage of the Trump-Putin Meeting Missed the Most Important Point
What’s missing this morning from the front pages of four of America’s Big Five newspapers—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today—exposes some of the reasons we felt the need after the November election to create DCReport.
Not one of America’s four most influential newspapers quoted the most crucial words spoken by Rex Tillerson, our country’s Secretary of State, about the private meeting Friday in Hamburg between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The Los Angeles Times gave the keywords only passing mention.
Tillerson said Trump began the meeting with Putin “by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
Notice that Trump didn’t say he was concerned. Trump didn’t say that the administration was concerned. He didn’t even say that the United States of America was concerned.
Trump expressed no official concern, based on what Tillerson said. None.
All Trump did was convey that “the American people” have concerns. If we had a transcript of the meeting, it would likely show that Trump said only some Americans have concerns.
Also getting little attention from the mainstream American news was what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said publicly after the meeting. “Trump accepted Putin’s assertions that the allegations, backed by U.S. intelligence agencies, were false,” as Reuters put it.
Most high-level diplomatic meetings have the leaders backed up by three to ten aides on each side with someone designated to take detailed notes. But other than translators, only Trump, Putin, Tillerson and Lavrov met. That means unless Tillerson took notes there will be no serious readout for the American people nor a detailed memo for our diplomats and military officers. It also means the fullest account comes from the Kremlin.
Why did Trump agree to meet without taking along the most informed experts at his side? Where were our top Russia experts, such as Fiona Hill, or the White House national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster? What really went on in that meeting? Those are questions unlikely to ever be fully answered.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, has said that the Kremlin’s interference in our democracy can be reasonably interpreted as “an act of war.” McCain’s view is shared by Dick Cheney, the hawkish former vice president.
Trump has made it clear he is not concerned about Russia’s attacks on our democracy in 2016. “Somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds” rather than Russia may have been the hacker, Trump has said in various ways since last September.
Why would Trump challenge Putin’s undermining American democracy? Trump is the primary beneficiary of Russian interference in our democracy.
While Putin may be less than pleased with Trump’s erratic style, at least Trump is easily manipulated. Putin—or anyone else—who grasps Trump’s shallowness, narcissism and appalling ignorance can play him. In my many negotiations with Trump, when I covered Atlantic City, I learned how flattery softened him, while even implied challenges evoked paranoia.
Putin can rejoice that he does not have to deal with Hillary Clinton, who vowed that as president she would aggressively challenge Putin for seizing Crimea, invading eastern Ukraine, undermining NATO and interfering in the elections of America and other democratic countries.
That Putin directed the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 election, some of it through contractors, is beyond dispute according to all 17 American intelligence agencies. When they say “high degree of confidence” it is governmentspeak for certain as certain can be. And yet Trump, according to Lavrov, said he accepted Putin’s statement that there was no Russian meddling.
By the way, contrast the failure to report exactly what Tillerson said in Hamburg with this sophisticated article in The New York Times the day before on Trump’s assertion that only “three or four” American intelligence agencies believed Russia interfered in the elections.
We started DCReport because we believe in the need to cover what our government does, not just what politicians say. Sometimes, though, what politicians say is what government does—or does not do. And too often our major news organizations fail to grasp that this administration is not like any other.
What does it tell us that our best newspapers failed to quote Tillerson’s most significant remark—and failed to make it the focal point of their reports? What does it say about the need for our approach to news at DCReport? Discuss, please, with your friends and family.