During yesterday’s press conference, President Donald J. Trump underwent an even more tumultuous press conference than usual. Among several of the hot topics he was faced with, the president was grilled in particular on Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor who was asked to resign earlier this week for conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak.
While President Trump defended Flynn’s integrity — saying he “was doing his job,” and even going as far as to say that he “would have directed him if he didn’t do it” — nonetheless, he maintained that asking him to step down was the appropriate procedure given his dishonesty with Vice President Mike Pence. According to the president, while Flynn was supposedly complying with his job’s procedures in conversing with world leaders, the vice president did ask him if he had been in communication with the Russian ambassador, to which he answered in the negative; it was this which warranted the request of resignation from the president.
Later into the conference, Trump went on somewhat of a tirade against much of the media, accusing outlets such as CNN of expressing disproportionate anti-Trump bias during their coverage, as well as a “tone” undergirded by “hatred.” He also tied in the media’s collusion with the “illegal hacks” which outed Flynn, calling it “disgraceful” and a factor in his resignation.
Shortly thereafter, Trump told the crowd that he wants a “friendly question.” The reporter he picked is a Hassidic Jew named Jake Turx, from Ami Magazine. The magazine, which in Hebrew literally means “My people,” caters to the Orthodox Jewish community. Before Turx began his question, the president sarcastically mused aloud: “Wait, wait — watch how friendly he is.”
Turx started off by preemptively rejecting media allegations accusing Trump and his staff of anti-Semitism (possibly referring to high-ups such as Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon). He pointed out how no one in his community believes this, and that they are cognizant of his daughter and grandchildren being Jewish. In response, Trump briefly interjected – “Thank you.”
Turx went on to add that while his community is not concerned about anti-Semitism from the president or his administration, what they are concerned about is a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes throughout the country. He pointed out instances such a rise in bomb threats to numerous Jewish community centers throughout the country, as well as anti-Semitic acts and threats.
President Trump did not take the question lightly. He prefaced his response by noting how the question was, in fact, “not a simple, easy question… not a fair question,” despite Turx getting up and suggesting it would be.
Trump went on to defend his record, claiming he is the “least” anti-Semitic and racist person. As proof, he cited his high performance with minority voters relative to past Republican candidates, as well as his congenial relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Towards the end of the president’s response, Turx attempted to clarify his question by pointing out that he was not accusing the president of anti-Semitism. However, Trump ultimately shut him down, and moved on to another reporter.
— Ami Magazine (@Ami_Magazine) February 16, 2017
After the press conference’s conclusion, a fair amount of websites and tabloids focused on this particular exchange. Many of them, as did scores of people on social media, accused Trump of continuing along an unorthodox path of ignoring anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in the wake of his presidency. This comes following yesterday’s press conference with the prime minister, in which an Israeli journalist asked a question analogous to Turx’s, and which received a response which was likewise criticized as unacceptably deflective.
However, in this plethora of coverage, what has been heavily ignored is what the reporter himself believed.
To start off, Turx has been covering Trump since the beginning of his candidacy. He’s followed him (along with other candidates) on the campaign trail from city to city, state to state, and even has been granted in-person interviews with him. Throughout this time, Turx has publicized on his social media that not only is Trump not anti-Semitic, but that he has also granted unprecedented access to Orthodox Jewish media. In the presidential primaries, for example, Trump gave a length interview to members of numerous Orthodox media outlets.
He has also in the past covered pro-Trump groups, who have been typically covered negatively, in a rather positive light. For example, on the campaign trail, he chatted with the infamous “Bikers for Trump” and posted about it on social media, noting how they were completely non-intimidating and fun:
I recently met with and interviewed a number of members from “Bikers for Trump”. They seemed like a fun group of people…
In recent days, Turx has taken to Facebook to do live feeds of the press conference room in the East Wing of the White House, as well as posting after the joint press conference with the Israeli prime minister an incident in which he briefly caught the president in passing, noting how he was in good spirits and affirmed well-wishes to the Jewish community whom Turx was representing:
As President Trump escorted Prime Minister Netanyahu to his vehicle, I asked the president what his message is for the…
While many — both journalists and average citizens alike — took to the Internet to voice their disapproval, Turx clarified his own take and assessment of the president in a Skype interview with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (AKA “America’s Rabbi”):
Live with Jake Turx, Senior White House Correspondent for Ami Magazine right after his exchange with POTUS
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Thursday, February 16, 2017
He later went on Fox News’ Carlson Tonight with Ed Henry to reiterate much of the same sentiments.
— Ami Magazine (@Ami_Magazine) February 17, 2017
In his Skype interview with Boteach, Turx reassured that he does not believe that the president or his staff harbor any anti-Semitism, and that there had simply been a misunderstanding with the president. While Turx meant to simply make mention of the statistical “uptick” in anti-Semitic incidents, and seek on how to deal with it in terms of security, Trump took it to mean an insinuation of anti-Semitism on his own part, and so his response was to be insulted and not answer.
Turx also noted to Boteach that he actually understands why the president reacted as he did. Trump has been bombarded in general by a hostile press and endless allegations of prejudice and the like. So naturally, it made sense that his instinct was to perceive the question as hostile.
Later, when on Fox News, Turx even said that far from being offended by the president’s reaction, the reaction actually affirmed the fact that he is anything but an anti-Semite; he (mistakenly) perceived it as an accusation, and it was that accusation which he was personally hurt and insulted by.
In addition to Turx’s clear defense of Trump — which is hardly being included in the coverage of the incident — there is also a broader context which ought to be mentioned. During Wednesday’s joint press conference with the Israeli prime minister, an Israeli journalist likewise asked Trump about the spike in anti-Semitic incidents. The difference was, that towards the end of his question, he said: “…I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community… who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.”
Clearly, unlike Turx’s question, this reporter was directly correlating the anti-Semitic incidents with Trump’s administration and supporters. It would be logical to conclude, then, that when Turx echoed the same overall message on the following day, it could have been confused for a similar attack.
It should also be noted that following the Israeli reporter’s question, Trump did not completely deflect — though there, too, he was accused of just that due to discussing his election victory in his response. The president did indeed begin his response by boasting of his Electoral College victory; however, to those with a discerning ear, that did tie into the segment following it.
Some pages on social media, such as act.TV, cut out everything in the president’s response following that segment:
Donald Trump can’t even say “Anti-Semitism”This is just embarrassing.
Posted by act.tv on Wednesday, February 15, 2017
So rather than simply accusing him of deflecting, there was a deliberate cut to create the image of the president talking about something unrelated entirely. Other pages, such as NowThis Politics, were generous enough to include the entire clip, but still framed it in their caption as “bragging about his victory” in response to a question on anti-Semitism:
Donald Trump Gets Called Out on Tinges of Anti-Semitism in His…President Trump was asked about anti-Semitism — he answered by bragging about his victory
Posted by NowThis Politics on Wednesday, February 15, 2017
In reality, Trump did not ignore the question — though, admittedly, he addressed the question in a roundabout way.
In the follow-up of mentioning his Electoral College victory, the president did in fact talk about putting an end to crime, racism, and “other bad things” in the country. While he did not address “anti-Semitism” in specific, it did seem rather clear that he was addressing the question by discussing putting an end to “racism” (in a generic sense), as well as “crime.”
Afterwards, he mentioned that the reason he was elected was because “we have a very, very divided nation.” It appears, then, that the prefacing of the answer which talked of his Electoral College win was to highlight how there was division and conflict building up to his victory, and that he was elected to heal the country.
The president concluded his answer by pointing his his Jewish friends, daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren; he also affirmed that he will “see a lot of love” in the upcoming years.
Upon close analysis, then, it does appear that the president addressed the question from a multi-frontal approach; it is just that those with selective hearing, who do not understand “Trump lingo,” attempt to conjure a narrative that is not rooted in reality.
The full text of the president’s response to the journalist’s inquiry can be found here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/02/15/remarks-president-trump-and-prime-minister-netanyahu-israel-joint-press
In the breakdown of this story and others, one may think of Kellyane Conway’s famous coining of the term “alternative facts.” While it may be a term that has turned into one of scorn, it is not so far off base in many events related to Trump. It is important to note that something can be true in and of itself, but also false in its interpretation due to lack of a broader context. In this case, that certainly was the case for the narrative that Trump has been consistently dogging accusations of anti-Semitism.