A sure sign Trump is losing: Reporters asking follow-up questions

They seem to be realizing it's over, cashing in on their access, asking questions they should have been asking all along.

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Last night, Axios on HBO aired a good interview by Jonathan Swan, in which he called Trump out on his lies and followed up with facts re: coronavirus testing and deaths per capita that we just haven’t seen from reporters in the White House press briefing room:

Swan, a White House correspondent, has often reported exclusive information from sources inside the West Wing, detailing White House actions, some of them horrendous but often reported as gleeful scoops. It comes from cultivating sources inside the White House — and that ultimately means pulling back on being tough. Access-driven reporters make compromises — and the moment you’re compromising with the Trump regime you are derelict in your duty.

Not surprisingly, Swan’s last interview with Trump, in 2018, was a terrible suck-up in which he was so proud of his scoop, even was caught smiling on camera — an announcement that Trump would be attempting to end birthright citizenship — but Swan asked no follow-up questions.

He came under enormous criticism, not just from Democrats and progressives, but from everyone who wanted Trump’s feet held to the fire, including many in the media itself, prompting an apology to his colleagues, after he tweeted out the news from the interview as something he was “excited to share.” (For some of his colleagues, he’d let the cat out of the bag just a bit too much.)

But this week Swan asked tough questions, with equally tough follow-up, not just on coronavirus but on Trump’s snubbing of John Lewis’s family and funeral after his death.

The White House may have thought they’d be getting another puffy interview, and that’s something Trump desperately needs. Trump can speak to Fox News pundits like Sean Hannity all he wants but it will only satisfy his base — which is already behind him — and not bring anyone else in.

Chris Wallace is one of the few actual journalists on Fox News — and he gets attention outside Fox, so the White House sees him as a good interviewer to sit down with: He has the credibility among many voters, including independents (who Trump needs so badly), has a large part of the Fox audience and is generally respected. They see him as tough — but not too tough.

And that’s how Wallace has mostly been with Trump (and White House officials) in the past: He’ll have one or two good questions and pull back in other areas.

But Wallace’s most recent interview with Trump was hard-hitting in mostly all areas, and it was a disaster for Trump: Trump melted down entirely, not having facts and asking his staff for papers to fact-check items — just as he referred to a stack of papers with Swan. The information he was given by staff was doctored or irrelevant, and Trump looked foolish. The White House clearly bet on Wallace being like he’d been in the past. But Wallace decided to make sure to continue asking hard questions and not let up.

But let’s be clear: Wallace didn’t do a spectacular interview (and there were areas he could have pursued further). He just did the standard interview that all journalists should have been doing with Trump all along, not being cowed by his bluster and change of subject — or by the fear he won’t come back. David Muir on ABC, in an interview in May that comes to mind, was an example of how badly journalists have interviewed Trump — and how networks may give softball interviews with Trump so that he’ll come back and thus help with ratings.

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Swan, like Wallace, also didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. He just did what journalists should be doing — and what he should have done in his 2018 Trump interview.

What’s clearly happening is that journalist see the handwriting on the wall. Trump looks like he’s going down, with Joe Biden leading in the polls. What will that access to Trump’s White House be worth in three months and, more importantly, how do you change the narrative about your own reporting and your own history and make a splash so maybe you can’t be accused of being an enabler of the Trump regime? Finally do a hard-hitting interview.

It’s all a pathetic commentary on the state of our media, and something we’ll have to address well after this election. As for now, I’m glad to see Trump now flailing as he tries to do interviews with outlets he saw as reliably complicit but which are now shocking him.

Dr. Birx, further exposed

The Washington Post has a long piece on the recent attention to Dr. Deborah Birx, whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally told the White House “is the worst.” Birx, Pelosi said — reflecting what many of us have believed — enabled Donald Trump’s misinformation on coronavirus and the idea that it was fading.

On Sunday, I’d written all about Pelosi’s comment, and added some of the background about Dr. Anthony Fauci, and his finally standing up to Trump and others in the White House. I was glad to see the Post confirm a lot of details with those who worked with both Fauci and Birx in the past, including activists.

As my longtime friend and ACTUP compatriot, AIDS activist Peter Staley, asked the Post: “What kind of nefarious spirit possessed the Debbie Birx that AIDS activists have loved and adored for years? Where did she go? We no longer recognize her, and it’s too late for an exorcism.”

The article talks about how Birx, seemingly squeezed by Pelosi’s criticism, finally followed the science and said on Sunday that we are in a dangerous “new phase” of the pandemic. (And she may now even be pushing against Trump’s plan to re-open schools.) That incurred the wrath of Trump, who tweeted out an attack on Birx for making a “hit” on him.

The article talks about how Birx seemed to have designs on becoming Health and Human Services Secretary. It’s amazing how people will destroy their own reputations, their place in history, giving up their own souls, for Donald Trump.

Something good

After Sunday’s discussion of my making gazpacho — and debating the various ingredients, which everyone has different ideas on — several people mentioned that it brought them back to the great Spanish director Pedro Almadovar’s 1988 film,“Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown,” in which there’s a scene with gazpacho (being served in glasses, rather than a bowl, which is usual, as it’s a chilled soup), with, um, something else added.

It made me want to see that amazing and really hilarious film again, so I plan to do so this week or weekend.

But also, don’t forget to see Almadovar’s stunning most recent film, “Pain and Glory,” an autofiction film which starred Antonio Bandaras, who was nominated last year for an Academy Award for his role, loosely playing Almadovar himself. Very powerful.

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And while on films, my hubby David, a film professor, always goes back to so many films to watch again. And last weekend we caught “California Suite” from 1978: Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Michael Kaine, Maggie Smith, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Walter Matthau — all based on the Neil Simon play. It’s kind of like a slapstick comedy but also disturbing, and very much of the time.