Not all heroes wear capes -- because, I'm sorry, they are just not a functional garment. And this week, that truism proved itself in grand fashion, as members of your free press pulled off a significant accomplishment: forcing presumptive GOP nominee and sclerotic pannus Donald Trump to finally part with the millions of dollars he had promised to various veterans' charities. What we've learned over the past few days makes clear that absent the media's harangues, Trump would have never given up the boodle. Let us now praise them.
As you no doubt recall, back in January, Trump -- in one of his patented spasms of unearned pique -- bailed on a Fox News debate in Des Moines, Iowa. Seemingly of the belief that Fox had victimized him in some way, Trump hatched a revenge plot in which he staged a rally at the same time as the debate, ostensibly for the purpose of raising money for veterans -- at least those veterans who'd never been prisoners of war, whom Trump famously despises. At the end of the night, Trump was making big claims about the cash he'd immediately raised: $6 million.
From there, the movement of this money became a great mystery. But members of the media set out to solve it. In mid-April, a critical CNN report prompted an incomplete disclosure from Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks, who claimed to have accounted for half of the money allegedly raised. In late May, The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold reported that Trump's sometime campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was walking back the original $6 million promise, alleging that only $4.5 million had been raised and pinning the blame on donors who had reneged on their promises to Trump.
An undeterred Fahrenthold wouldn't let go so easily. He took to Twitter, publishing a partial transcript of The Washington Post's most recent interview with Trump that documented his colleague Drew Harwell's attempts to pin the candidate down on the matter of where the money went. Trump spent several minutes zanily dissembling to Harwell. The interview concluded after Trump was asked about posing as his own spokesman -- a bizarre stunt to which Trump had previously copped before suddenly electing to start denying it again -- whereupon Trump fled the interview by hanging up.
But Fahrenthold's rigorous pursuit of the money owed to veterans culminated in this week's press conference, during which Trump was finally forced to account for the money's whereabouts. There at Trump Tower, he assailed the press for doing their job, referring to specific members as "sleaze" and "nasty," like so: “You know, you’re a nasty guy. You’re really a nasty guy. I gave out millions of dollars that I had no obligation to do.”
Actually, when you stand on a stage bragging about having raised $6 million for charity, that does, in fact, obligate you to give out millions of dollars. If we're being exact, it obligates you to give out six million dollars.
What's more, it would seem that it was the heat applied by Fahrenthold, et al., that finally forced Trump to honor this obligation. As The Associated Press reported after the press conference, the media's recent burst of high-tensile scrutiny of this issue seems to have pushed Trump to hastily start writing checks:
The Associated Press spoke or left messages with each of the organizations Trump named. Of the 30 groups that responded by Tuesday, about half said they had received checks from Trump just last week.
Several said the checks were dated on or about May 24 — the date [that Fahrenthold shared excerpts from] Trump's interview with the Post — and shipped out overnight.
Among them was the big check from Trump himself, written to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation. Trump's campaign had previously told the newspaper that his promised $1 million personal donation had already been distributed.
So you know how a kid in junior high school might wait till Sunday to let his parents know that he has to go to school on Monday dressed as his favorite constitutional amendment, and then mom and dad have to dash out to various craft stores to get their dumb, procrastinating child properly kitted out to resemble the walking embodiment of our Founding Fathers' antipathy for quartering troops in a private home? That's basically what Donald Trump's organization is like, except he's also a grasping, itchy-palmed con man on top of everything else.
As Mother Jones' Kevin Drum has documented, Trump's basic story about his charitable donations to veterans' organizations underwent substantial changes right up until Tuesday's press conference, at which an all-new tale was told. Previously, Trump had said that the organizations to which the donations would flow had been chosen in advance of the charity rally. Yesterday, he said that the vetting process had only just concluded. (And by the way, that vetting process missed one.)
Hilariously, Trump made several attempts to act as if this whole effort to raise money for veterans had always been something he wanted to do without much fanfare. "I wanted to do this out of the goodness of my heart. I didn’t want to do this where the press is all involved," he lied, adding, "If we could, I wanted to keep it private because I don’t think it’s anybody’s business if I wanna send money to the vets."
None of that squares with the original intent of the rally, to punish Fox News by outperforming it in the ratings -- a point on which Trump was still harping during the very press conference in which he was attempting to pose as an anonymous saint. “It was the lowest-rated debate, by the way,” Trump said, desperately clinging to something he could call a "win."
Perhaps the most newsworthy part of Tuesday's press conference was Trump's insult-laden exclamations against the media who had done nothing more than (successfully) hold him to account. CNN's Dylan Byers and Jeremy Diamond referred to Trump's outbursts as having "reached Nixonian levels." Based on their reporting, it seems that reporters are learning to adjust to a new world in which Trump has explicitly encouraged the media to pick a side -- stand fully behind him or face the consequences. Per Byers and Diamond:
Trump's objective here is clear, several campaign strategists and political reporters observed: To discredit the people who call attention to his lies, his contradictions, his lack of transparency and the less seemly aspects of his history.
"Why attack media?" asked Michael Barbaro of The New York Times. "So you can keep saying they are 'discredited' when tough stories come out. It's [a] deliberate attempt at inoculation."
Elsewhere, The Washington Post's Paul Waldman proclaimed that Trump had "declare[d] war on the press." But for this day, it might be more proper to say that the press had effectively routed Trump in this battle over donations, with the real victors being the charities themselves, who can thank the media for obtaining the promised lucre for their needy coffers from a bent-on-reneging Trump.
This is good news, because there are larger quarries to hunt. Trump University, which looks like the ne plus ultra of Trump scams, is becoming a thing. There are tax returns that need to be brought to light. And then there are just the day-to-day instances of Trump radically reversing himself on his policy positions, which resemble the lifecycle of a mayfly in the way they come tumbling from his mouth into the world only to die a flip-flopped death at the next utterance.
After his drubbing, Trump sought shelter in the traditional refuge of America's blackguards, the warm embrace of Fox News' Sean Hannity. There, Hannity -- who's so obviously chuffed to find, in Trump, a candidate that pairs his desire to be a GOP party hack with his longing to be some sweaty autocrat's version of Baghdad Bob -- joined the reality television mogul in musing about how terrible the media are and reassured the wounded candidate that he could count on Hannity's vote in November.
It's so sweet watching two guys with a history of suspect donations to veterans connecting like that.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.