President Donald Trump likes the beatdown and the screwjob.
Those are rasslin’ terms, as befits a squared circle administration of comic proportions. They put the “WWE” in the White House.
Less than a month ago, stirring up the ring rats at a mid-terms rally in Montana, Trump praised a congressman, Greg Gianforte, who last year body slammed a journalist to the ground.
Pantomiming a wrestling move, the president declared: “Any guy that can do a body slam … he’s my kind of — he’s my guy.”
This was after the disappearance and murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which hasn’t curtailed Trump’s media demonizing a smidge.
Gianforte, who won a second term on Tuesday, pled guilty to a charge of misdemeanour assault, given a 180-day deferred sentence, community service and ordered to take anger management counselling.
Then there was then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, charged with battery after grabbing a reporter. (For Brietbart News, but still.) The charges were dropped, with authorities saying there wasn’t enough evidence for a conviction.
And of course we all know about Trump’s assaultive tendencies toward women — “Grab them by the pussy.”
So, this West Wing cabal has not a moral leg to stand on when decrying The Shove That Wasn’t. The Trumpists have normalized, indeed glorified, violence and thuggery, among a multitude of sins. Newsroom massacres don’t count for a fig, nor the inspiring of white supremacists who commit slaughter in a synagogue.
Yet, in further evidence of their no-shame disdain, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a misleadingly edited video — from conspiracy site fomenter Infowars — to justifying stripping CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s “hard pass” gallery credentials.
One shouldn’t be surprised — I doubt anybody is — by the conniving behind a fake news incident. This is a mendacious administration that lies by the truck-full, undeterred by the fact-checking that has become a regular feature among media keeping a ledger.
The in-term deceit began on the day of Trump’s inauguration when he railed against reports about the size of the crowd in attendance. Thus we got WH adviser Kellyanne Conway coining the phrase “alternative facts,” which has continued as a theme and a meme throughout.
At the chaotic Wednesday press conference, morning after the midterms — only Trump’s third formal news conference at the White House since he took office — the president launched what was, even for him, a shockingly snarly and venomous attack against Acosta, ratcheting up his media broadsides to kick-boxing spectacle.
Acosta asked a question the president didn’t like and then persisted, doggedly, in the face of Trump’s slandering aspersions, as a White House intern moved forward to take Acosta’s microphone away, at the president’s direction.
There was the briefest, most benign, of physical contact as Acosta tried to hang on. “Pardon me, ma’am,” Acosta clearly said.
But those words were erased from the audio on the 15-second clip that Sanders posted on Twitter. The footage also appears to show Acosta pushing the intern’s upper arm. That footage was identical, as pointed out by several media outlets, to the clip posted earlier by Paul Joseph Watson, an Infowars contributor and forensically analyzed by the New York Times.
Infowars, of course, has been banned by platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, for spreading conspiracy theories. Among the most notorious, claims that the mass shooting of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax.
“We will not tolerate the inappropriate behaviour clearly documented in this video,” Sanders wrote on the post.
Documented, my arse. What’s clear is that the video, though not expressly faked, has been edited by zooming in on the glancing brush and repeating several frames, exaggerating the touch, making it look like forceful, sustained contact.
On Thursday, while not addressing why she used content from so disreputable an organization, Sanders doubled down, as she is wont to do. “The question is: Did the reporter make contact or not?” she said in a statement. “The video is clear; he did.”
The only thing clear is that this White House knows no boundaries when it comes to vilifying the media, “the enemy of the people” as Trump repeatedly puts it.
Of course, the media is rightly outraged by the administration’s big footing of journalists. Even those who have little love for Acosta — he’s a showboat, to put it mildly — must rally to the reporter’s side because blackballing a journalist by removing his WH credentials is just about unprecedented.
The White House News Photographers Association issued their own statement, saying they were “appalled” by the distribution of an Infowars clip.
“As visual journalists, we know that manipulating images is manipulating truth. It’s deceptive, dangerous and unethical. Knowingly sharing manipulated images is equally problematic, particularly when the person sharing them is a representative of our country’s highest office with vast influence over public opinion.”
But that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
I suspect Acosta was ambushed by Trump in a calculated manoeuvre.
Acosta has a history of antagonizing the president. Big deal. That’s his job, or at least that’s his approach to the job in what has become a ground war with mainline media. There are no Queensberry Rules for political reporting and Trump has certainly set the gauge for no-holds-barred hostility.
So why would he go to Acosta for the first question?
He asked about Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric on immigration — that migrant caravan on a slow march from Central America, Trump threatening to deploy 15,000 troops to the Mexico-U.S. border.
“CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them,” Trump thundered. “You are a rude, terrible person.” Etc.
It was a trap, if unavoidable. In one fell swoop, Trump distracted media attention from the mid-terms results, crowded out caterwauling from his sacking of attorney general Jeff Sessions later Wednesday, and rid himself of an antagonizing reporter.
Triple-play. Impressively diabolical, actually. Punk the media.
So naked a ploy should disgust the nation. But it won’t. It will merely animate Trump’s craven base.
A fortnight ago, in a 3 a.m. tweet, Trump blasted CNN for “blaming me” for a spate of pipe bombs sent to his adversaries, including the cable network’s New York offices.
Trump is the bomb, his hateful rhetoric the shrapnel.
The Big One is ticking in the White House.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno