On Thursday, NBC’s Today seemed to delight in causing “turmoil” within the Trump administration after reporting on anonymous gossip about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson allegedly calling the President a “moron.” Co-host Savannah Guthrie opened the show by hyping: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes on an NBC News report that he referred to the President as a moron. But, doesn’t deny it....the latest on the State Department in turmoil.”
Minutes later, Guthrie introduced a full report on the media-manufactured controversy by breathlessly describing “the strong reaction over exclusive reporting by NBC News that exposed a growing rift between President Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.”
Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell – who once accused Tillerson of helping “empower” dictators – proclaimed: “The President’s national security cabinet in turmoil today over our report of a toxic relationship between the White House and the Secretary of State, as the President, the Vice President, and Rex Tillerson himself rushed to deny that he had ever thought of quitting.”
“This morning, the President and his Secretary of State trying to contain the fallout from an exclusive NBC News report about a widening rift between them,” the reporter announced.
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After playing a soundbite of Trump dismissing the network’s reporting as “fake news” and a “phony story,” Mitchell cited more anonymous sources: “But senior administration officials confirmed to NBC News Tillerson did threaten to resign in July after a series of disagreements with the President...”
Wrapping up the hostile segment, she concluded:
But despite all the denials, many sources in both camps say that this is a relationship beyond repair and, in fact, that the only reason the President is not firing Secretary Tillerson is that he has already gotten rid of so many people in his cabinet and top White House staff that he can’t afford more political damage.
This wasn’t the first time NBC claimed there was “turmoil” in Tillerson’s State Department. On the September 18 NBC Nightly News, anchor Lester Holt warned: “As the President prepares to address the U.N. for the first time, there is turmoil swirling around his foreign policy team. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused of crippling the department he's charged with leading...” In the report that followed, Mitchell asserted that Tillerson was being “widely criticized for presiding over a State Department where nobody’s home.”
In addition to NBC’s almost gleeful coverage of the controversy, on Thursday’s CBS This Morning, co-host Charlie Rose assured viewers that “President Trump could not escape from reporters asking about his Secretary of State,” who “took the unusual step yesterday of appearing before cameras at the State Department to answer questions about whether he had insulted the President and considered resigning.”
Correspondent Margaret Brennan further sensationalized: “It is extraordinary to have a Secretary of State hold a press conference to pledge his loyalty to the President, but Tillerson knew that President Trump was angry and he sent out his own spokesperson to deny that he ever called the President a ‘moron.’”
Reiterating Rose’s introduction, she noted: “President Trump’s trip to console victims in Las Vegas was dogged by an explosive story claiming that Secretary of State Tillerson had called him a ‘moron’ and nearly quit following a July meeting at the Pentagon.”
At the end of the segment, Brennan highlighted Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker’s concern that “there are people within the Trump administration deliberately trying to undercut Tillerson’s authority.” Turning to co-host Norah O’Donnell, Brennan observed: “And, Norah, that can have an impact, because even the perception of a divide between the President and his top diplomat can weaken U.S. negotiating power.” O’Donnell replied: “And U.S. national security.”
Given such serious negative implications for U.S. global interests and national security, one wonders why the media would be so intent on spreading damaging gossip from anonymous sources.
Later in 8 a.m. ET hour, former Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer appeared on the program and exclaimed: “Well, you know, extraordinary is certainly the word. I can never remember a secretary of state calling a news conference to say he’s loyal to the president....this was not like a news conference, it was more like a hostage tape.”
On ABC’s Good Morning America, co-host George Stephanopoulos emphasized: “...it’s no secret there has been a lot of friction between the White House and the Secretary of State....and that could make it more difficult for the Secretary of State to do his job overseas.” Chief Global Affairs Anchor Martha Raddatz agreed: “I think that’s right, George. It’s hard to see how this doesn’t undermine Tillerson’s efforts.” Keeping up the drumbeat against the Trump cabinet official, Stephanopoulos concluded: “Hard to see how long he can stay under these conditions.”
The biased coverage across all three networks was brought to viewers by Nutella, Tide, and Hershey’s.
Here is a full transcript of Mitchell’s October 5 report:
7:01 AM ET TEASE
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Pushing back. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes on an NBC News report that he referred to the President as a moron. But, doesn’t deny it.
REX TILLERSON: The places I come from, we don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense.
GUTHRIE: Tillerson also claiming he’s never considered resigning, but senior officials telling NBC News he threatened to. This morning, the latest on the State Department in turmoil.
7:09 AM ET SEGMENT
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: A lot more to get to this morning, including the strong reaction over exclusive reporting by NBC News that exposed a growing rift between President Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell is on the story again for us this morning. Andrea, good morning to you.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Good morning, Savannah. The President’s national security cabinet in turmoil today over our report of a toxic relationship between the White House and the Secretary of State, as the President, the Vice President, and Rex Tillerson himself rushed to deny that he had ever thought of quitting.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: State Department Split? Tillerson Defends Trump in Wake of “Moron” Report]
This morning, the President and his Secretary of State trying to contain the fallout from an exclusive NBC News report about a widening rift between them. Rex Tillerson now denying he was on the verge of resigning this summer.
REX TILLERSON: I have never considered leaving this post.
MITCHELL: And offering praise for the President.
TILLERSON: Let me tell you what I’ve learned about this president, whom I did not know before taking this office. He loves his country. He puts Americans and America first. He’s smart.
MITCHELL: President Trump, in Las Vegas, insisting Tillerson has his support.
DONALD TRUMP: Thank you. Total confidence in Rex. I have total confidence.
MITCHELL: And Mr. Trump dismissing the NBC report outright.
TRUMP: It was fake news. It was a totally phony story. Thank you very much. It was made up. It was made up by NBC.
MITCHELL: But senior administration officials confirmed to NBC News Tillerson did threaten to resign in July after a series of disagreements with the President, and was talked out of it by Defense Secretary James Mattis and incoming Chief of Staff John Kelly. The President and Tillerson clashing over Iran, a dispute between U.S. Allies in the Persian Gulf, and North Korea. The frustration boiling over with Tillerson openly disparaging the President as a “moron” after a meeting at the Pentagon, three senior officials told NBC News. Asked for a response, Tillerson, Wednesday, not denying that remark.
TILLERSON: The places I come from, we don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense, and it is intended to do nothing but divide people.
MITCHELL: Hours later, a State Department spokeswoman, who did not attend the meeting, denied the comment.
HEATHER NAUERT [STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN]: He did not say that.
MITCHELL: On Capitol Hill, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman, Bob Corker, despite his past criticism of Tillerson for trying to slash the State Department’s budget, voiced support for Tillerson as well as the former generals advising the President.
SEN. BOB CORKER [(R-TN) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN]: I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos.
MITCHELL: Senator Corker also suggested that the President has not given his Secretary of State the backing that he needs to do his job effectively. But despite all the denials, many sources in both camps say that this is a relationship beyond repair and, in fact, that the only reason the President is not firing Secretary Tillerson is that he has already gotten rid of so many people in his cabinet and top White House staff that he can’t afford more political damage. Matt and Savannah?
GUTHRIE: Andrea Mitchell, thank you.