Before Donald Trump’s brief Monday-morning remarks about Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas, CNN’s anchors and pundits repeatedly suggested that the president—the one whose response to a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico has been to make repeated, petty comments about the mayor of its largest city; who ignored that crisis as it developed because he was perpetrating a widely unpopular vendetta against football players; whose comments after a woman was run down and killed at a white supremacist rally suggested that liberals bore some blame for her death; and whose unfiltered early morning reaction to Las Vegas was to bizarrely write that he sent its victims his “warmest condolences”—would deliver a meaningful, uplifting speech.
The network’s anchors and pundits used the word unity seven times, also raising themes such as “calm,” “resolve,” “reassurance,” and consolation. “He has shown he can bring this country together,” said one anchor, Poppy Harlow, apparently reporting from an alternate reality. As viewers waited for Trump to take the lectern, analyst Lisa Monaco even suggested that he might be delaying his speech in order to carefully gather more information:
One of the things that could be delaying the speech is the lack of information. You want to find out everything you can before you come out and speak before the country.
Yes—deliberative empiricism, our president's trademark! In any case, Trump finally arrived and read a short series of banal, vague clichés about being “joined together” in “sadness, shock, and grief” from a teleprompter. His comments—as the leader of our country and the person who is ostensibly most responsible for preserving its well-being and the lives of its citizens—did not address the United States’ epidemic of mass shootings or its high baseline level of violence.
Here’s how CNN’s news team responded:
“Pitch perfect,” said chief national correspondent John King. “Pitch perfect,” said senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny. “Pitch perfect,” said political director David Chalian. (They really all said this!)
Fox News host and longtime Media Establishment figure Howard Kurtz had related thoughts:
I said on FBN that the Trump speech was eloquent, calling attack evil, urging unity, talking about love, prayer, not a scintilla of politics— HowardKurtz (@HowardKurtz) October 2, 2017
Gun control is a legitimate issue, but for the Dems already raising it after Las Vegas massacre, could we just have a day before plunging in— HowardKurtz (@HowardKurtz) October 2, 2017
Do these people live in the same United States as the rest of us? Objectively, Trump is considered "unfit" and "embarrassing" by majorities of Americans. Objectively, Americans are not unified about the question of how to respond to or prevent mass shootings; if anything, we are bitterly and catastrophically divided. Objectively, the United States' level of deadly violence is extroardinary for a wealthy country. These are not opinions or "politics," they are facts. They are the news.
It's possible to see how this hand-holding "unity" trope developed. Other past tragedies—the Challenger disaster, Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9/11—did really unify the country in shock and sadness, however briefly. But that isn't the country we live in anymore. We are in the midst of a nightmare—one that, far from involving shock or surprise, is characterized by its repetitive, ghastly predictability—and there is no consensus about what should be done about it. Journalists who celebrate the president for pretending otherwise are not reporting the news, or being objective. They are creating a fantasy of hope and good feeling where none exist.