In a briefing Tuesday, Fox News correspondent James Rosen asked White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest about the performance of NBC News’s Lester Holt in moderating the first presidential debate at Hofstra University. Earnest responded that Holt didn’t become the story. “The fact that we’ve gone through a good 40 minutes or so of the briefing without mentioning Mr. Holt’s name I think is a pretty good endorsement of his performance,” said Earnest.
Determined to extract accountability from the White House regarding an NBC News anchor, Rosen pressed on with the following question:
So it eluded the president’s attention that Mr. Holt, who enjoys the respect of everyone in this room, this questioner included, nonetheless, last night, pressed Mr. Trump pointedly on just about every perceived area of vulnerability for him, including his early statements about the Iraq War, his refusal to release his tax returns, his role in the birther issue, his endorsement of stop-and-frisk, and his comments about whether or not Mrs. Clinton has a presidential look, but somehow failed to press Mrs. Clinton even a single time on any of her perceived points of vulnerability such as her conduct with her emails, the role of the Clinton Foundation in the Clinton State Department, her refusal to release her Goldman Sachs speeches, her deep trustworthy deficit with the American electorate, her role in the destruction of Libya or the Benghazi attacks. None of those things were pressed by Mr. Holt. Did that elude the president’s attention, that sort of seeming imbalance in the questioning?
First, let’s dispense with some housekeeping. How does Rosen know that everyone in the White House briefing room respects Lester Holt? Where’s his polling on that matter? And please do away with the meaningless prefatory niceties: To voice great respect for someone that you then go on to criticize is an overdone rite of Washington smarm. Cut it out.
In responding to Rosen, Earnest said, “Well, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that all of Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities were covered.” That would be correct. Rosen’s premise aligns with a creeping Fox News move toward full-on embrace of Trump, as we described in this post. To suggest that a 90-minute event could possibly encompass “just about every perceived area of vulnerability” for Trump is to assert that such vulnerabilities are finite. In addition to Rosen’s list, we’d like to add a few: Trump’s treatment of women, his extreme pronouncements on immigration, the gulf between his claims of charitable giving and reality, the conflicts of interest posed by his international business holdings, his nonsensical proposal to “open up” the country’s libel laws, his ties to a former Mafia-linked businessman, his hypocrisy over climate change, his extreme litigiousness, his alleged profiting from the work of foreign models on tourist visas, his impersonation of his own PR operative, his insistence on nondisparagement clauses, his denial of campaign credentials to various media outlets. There are more, of course.
None of that is to suggest that Rosen didn’t have a point on the Clinton front — surely Holt should have pressed on the items cited by the Fox News anchor. But how is that a question for Josh Earnest? Or President Obama? Or anyone in the White House?
Too bad NBC News Chairman Andy Lack and his peers don’t do regular press briefings in front of a room of media reporters. At the debate’s media filing center Monday night, the Erik Wemple Blog managed to get several minutes of Lack’s time, though we hadn’t exhausted our list of questions when he decided to move along. Everywhere else were stone walls: We asked CNN commentator Corey Lewandowski a couple of times about his oversize conflict of interest as he punditizes on the Trump campaign while drawing severance payments from the Trump campaign. “I’d love to talk to you but you gotta get clearance from CNN. I got a contractual obligation. … You gotta talk to CNN, brother,” said Lewandowski as he attempted to make an arc around the Erik Wemple Blog. We pressed again, prompting this snark from the fired Trump campaign manager, “Did you hear me the third time?” We asked Brit Hume of Fox News about whether he would comment on his tweet criticizing former colleague Gretchen Carlson for her sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes. “I said no,” he responded. We asked Kimberly Guilfoyle, who also defended Ailes in the Carlson matter, whether she had any apologies. She turned and walked away. And so it went. TV news types love accountability, except when it stares them in the eyes.