Donald Trump has benefitted from plenty of free and favorable media, particularly from CNN. But he may have finally pushed his luck too far.
Trump had promised that his appearance at the new Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., on Friday would include a major statement about President Barack Obama’s birth status.
The real estate mogul teased the appearance that morning, fueling speculation that he might finally admit he had been wrong to question the president’s U.S. citizenship. There was even talk that Trump might apologize.
It didn’t happen. After speaking for a few minutes about his new hotel and letting a series of veterans praise his candidacy, Trump said, “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
The statement, which lasted about 30 seconds, contained two separate lies.
And CNN’s panelists made sure their viewers knew it.
This was John Berman: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign never pushed it.” And this was his co-anchor, Kate Bolduan: “It’s false. … Donald Trump in 2011, he made this his signature issue. No one has gone as far as Donald Trump on the birther issue.”
Jake Tapper ― who, to his credit, has been among the most aggressive about calling out Trump’s lies ― was blunt: “Those are two factually false statements. ... She and her campaign never, never started the birther issue. Second, Donald Trump did not end the birther issue.”
Tapper also noted that the birther issue had a racial element, because it was an effort to delegitimize the nation’s first African-American president.
John King, who remembered interviewing Trump on the day Obama released his birth certificate, was nearly speechless.
“After four or five years of leading a fraudulent and reckless campaign against the legitimacy of the United States president, you got, what, about six or seven words from Donald Trump?” he said.
“And none of those words,” Berman noted, “were ‘I’m sorry, I apologize.’ Or explaining why he ever questioned the birth status of the United States president.”
On social media, other media figures reacted with a similar mix of incredulity and condemnation.
This response may have partly reflected a realization that Trump had manipulated the media once again, by getting the networks to break away from normal coverage in order to show some pretty routine campaign speeches ― and promote his new hotel along the way. After promising a big reveal, Trump began his appearance by bragging about his new hotel. He then let a parade of veterans sing his political praises, turning the event into a free advertisement.
“We got played,” CNN panelists admitted on air.
Whatever the reason, the reaction to Trump’s birther statement recalled the harsh commentary following Trump’s attacks on federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel (the judge of Mexican heritage presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University) and the Khan family (the Muslim parents of a soldier killed in Iraq).
Trump’s statements in those cases so clearly betrayed racial bias that they fueled lengthy political controversy, and ended up hurting his campaign. Friday’s statement on the birther controversy was so egregiously dishonest that it may have a similar effect.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the Khans as parents of a Marine. In fact, their son was a captain in the U.S. Army.