Losers, suckers, and the 'wrap-up' smear


The media is calling out its anonymous sources to criticize the president.

Jeffrey Goldberg has written an article in The Atlantic claiming that President Trump "repeatedly disparaged the intelligence of service members."  Goldberg contends President Donald Trump lied when he canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in 2018, claiming that the helicopter couldn’t fly due to weather.  According to Goldberg, Trump refused to visit because his hair would be disheveled in the rain and it was unimportant to honor American war dead.  "According to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion" Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.”  In a later conversation Trump referred to the Marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers.”  He also reportedly questioned, “Who were the good guys in this war?”

In order to bolster his claim that Trump is anti-military Goldberg references Trump's relationship with Senator John McCain.  Goldberg claims, "Trump’s understanding of concepts such as patriotism, service, and sacrifice has interested me since he expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain." Goldberg also mentions Trump's criticism of the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq.  It should be noted that his criticism had been in response to their attacks.

Goldberg's information is attributed to anonymous sources: "three sources with direct knowledge of this event," "sources with direct knowledge of his views," one officer with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s views" and "according to eyewitnesses."  Goldberg stressed that "These sources, and others quoted in this article, spoke on condition of anonymity."  The problem is that anonymous sources are getting old.  An “extremely credible source” told Harry Reid that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for 10 years.  Reid later admitted this claim was false, telling Dana Bash “I don’t regret that at all.  Romney didn’t win did he?”

Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin cites two anonymous former “senior” U.S. officials who have confirmed “key parts” of the Atlantic‘s story about the president.  Griffin said she could not confirm “the most salacious” part of the Atlantic report which claimed that Trump had called World War I solders buried at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris “losers” and “suckers.”  Griffin explained, "My sources are not anonymous to me and I doubt they are anonymous [to] the president."

‘My Sources Are Unimpeachable’

The claim is that Trump "can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” according to one of General John Kelly's four-star general friends.

He finds the idea of military service difficult to understand and the idea of volunteering to serve especially incomprehensible, so the claim goes.  

This is an odd accusation of a man who is holding office without a salary.  Perhaps he is motivated by the sight of the vast fortunes accumulated by recent presidents.  That appears unlikely, given that he already has one.

The public's response is reenforced with comments from people outside the press. Retired airline pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger condemned President Trump’s reported comments saying he had “completely failed to uphold his oath.”  “He cannot comprehend the concept of service above self.” and “He cannot understand selflessness because he is selfish. He cannot conceive of courage because he is a coward. He cannot feel duty because he is disloyal.” Sullenberger has made negative remarks about Trump in the past, too.

Senator Tammy Duckworth announced on CNN that “We all know this is exactly Donald Trump. This is who he is. People know the story is accurate because he’s consistently said these things over the years and continues to act in a way where he likes to use the military for his own personal ego as if we were some sort of toy soldiers you could pull out and line up on your desk to play with.”

Goldberg's article is a classic example of the Wrap-Up Smear as defined by Nancy Pelosi to a group of reporters:  “It’s a diversionary tactic.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, you demonize and then — the ‘wrap-up smear.’ You wanna talk politics? We call it the ‘wrap-up smear.'  You smear somebody with falsehoods and all the rest, and then you merchandise it. And then you (gesturing to the media) write it, and then they say, ‘See, it’s reported in the press that this, this, this, and this.’ So they have that validation that the press reported the smear, and then it’s called the ‘wrap-up smear.'”

Trump's press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, described it as "fake news."

Nearly a dozen current and former government officials have gone on the record to state the story's claims were effectively false, including former National Security Advisor John Bolton, a Trump critic, who said he never heard it.  Goldberg claim that Trump lied about the helicopter not being able to fly is contradicted by an email from one of the president's that reads, "We are a bad weather call for today's lift."  Goldberg claims Trump blamed rain for the last-minute decision not to visit the cemetery, saying “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. "Neither claim was true."  An email from one of the president's military aids clearly reads, "We are a bad weather call for today's lift."  This smear will be repeated endlessly by the media until it becomes an established "fact."

John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (Algora Publishing).  He has a Master of Arts Degree in International Relations from St. Mary’s University.  He is retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.  He is featured on the BBC's program  "Things We Forgot to Remember:" Morgenthau Plan and Post-War Germany.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0. Enhanced with FotoSketcher.

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