CNN’s most senior political journalists could barely contain their outrage on Friday morning after Republican nominee Donald Trump used an event that they expected to be about Birtherism to showcase his support from veterans, Medal of Honor winners, retired flag officers, and Medal of Honor winners.
CNN’s Jake Tapper complained about a “political Rick roll.” Gloria Borger furiously accused Trump of “a breathtaking act of political expediency.” Anchor Ashleigh Banfield slammed Trump for “Birther crap,” and complained that Trump staff had prevented a CNN journalist from joining him on a tour of his new hotel. CNN’s chief national correspondent John King summed it up best: “I don’t know what to say here … We got played, again, by the @realDonaldTrump campaign.”
It began on Thursday evening and Friday morning, the media played up expectations that Trump would address the Birther issue, which they had brought up increasingly in recent days.
Hillary Clinton had also attacked Trump for his role in 2011 in pushing the theory that President Barack Obama had been born in Kenya, prompting Obama to release the “long-form” birth certificate from Hawaii that he had previously withheld.
Barack Obama was born in America, plain and simple.
Donald Trump owes him and the American people an apology.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 16, 2016
Clinton, of course was partly responsible for the Birther theory in 2008, when her supporters pushed the idea that he was not born in the U.S. and therefore might not be eligible to be President of the United States. That theory, in turn, likely resulted from Obama’s own claims — via his literary agent — that he had been “born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”
On Thursday and Friday, Trump declined to say whether he believed Obama was born in the U.S., even though the Trump campaign had issued a statement that he believed Obama was, in fact, born in Hawaii. The media played up the contradiction. Trump, pressed for answers Friday, actually tipped his hand, telling a journalist “we have to keep the suspense going.”
What Trump had in mind was something of a prank at the media’s expense.
He opened his remarks with several endorsements from senior, experienced veterans and national security activists, who not only explained why Donald Trump was their choice for commander-in-chief but also mocked Hillary Clinton by calling themselves “deplorables.” One, for example, drew applause by declaring: “We’ve dedicated our lives to the security of our nation, as deplorable as we are.”
Trump also spoke about the sacrifices of Gold Star families — going some way toward undoing the lingering damage of the Khizr Khan controversy.
Trump eventually concluded his remarks by declaring that Clinton had started the Birther controversy, that he had finished it in 2011, adding: “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again. Thank you very much.” Journalists shouted questions, to no avail, as Trump greeted members of the audience.
The CNN panel that followed was a paroxysm of rage. Political correspondent Dana Bash, for one, vowed to “keep this discussion going, at least in the near future,”asserting that the Trump campaign would only be able to move on to other issues once it answered every detailed question about the Birther controversy.
No one believes that, which is why Trump’s setup on Friday hit the mark. Trump knows, as other Republican presidential candidates only realized too late, that the mainstream media use such contrived controversies for the sole purpose of helping the Democrats and their nominee.
The media expected to see Trump implode, his rising poll numbers brought low again. Trump used the CNN and the media’s eagerness against them, commandeering their coverage to broadcast his message.
CNN is mad, but it only has itself to blame.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.