Bozell & Graham Column: The Long Week of the Leaked McCain Insult

Our “news” media are addicted to damaging internal leaks from the Trump White House, especially when they make Team Trump look wildly insensitive. The two most common words in the press today are “sources say.” Now the country is spending a week with the media demanding a public apology from White House aide Kelly Sadler, who reportedly said in bad taste the administration didn’t have to care about John McCain’s dramatic opposition to CIA director-designate Gina Haspel, because “he’s dying anyway.” 

We have no idea of the context. We’re not even certain this is exactly what she said. But who cares?

Gail Collins of The New York Times spoke frankly: “The stunning thing to me about that Sadler-McCain thing was that it got leaked. The fact that in private conversation, presidential aides occasionally make deeply offensive wisecracks about the opposition (and McCain at that moment was the opposition) isn’t exactly shocking. But that it immediately got out was sort of amazing.”

Kudos to Collins for acknowledging the probable and rather unexceptional context. But to suggest the leak is stunning is to say one should be shocked to learn Tuesday follows Monday. Rarely a day goes by when some anonymously sourced tidbit of White House gossip isn’t fed to the press in the full knowledge it will be magnified 100 times in importance. 

So the offensive behavior isn’t special, it was the leak? Sadler privately apologized days ago, but that’s meaningless. The networks will keep playing Bad Manners Bingo until someone apologizes publicly. Liberals actually demanded Sadler be fired.  Conservative radio host Larry O’Connor joked on Twitter that if rude private remarks about politicians is the new standard for firing people, “I'm pretty sure every journalist will have to be replaced by a robot.”

Consider what journalists say about Donald J. Trump in private.

What demonstrates the media’s all-encompassing lack of fairness and balance is that if an Obama White House aide had spilled something uncharitable like this, the media elites would have pretended it never happened. 

In fact, Obama and Biden could say rude things in public and they would pretend it never happened, or wave it away quickly. There was Biden in 2012 warning a black audience against the Republicans: “They want y’all back in chains.” Each network aired just one story, and ABC and NBC stayed vague, playing dumb about just what was offensive in the slavery accusation. 

In 2014, Biden bashed lawyer for veterans as “Shylocks who took advantage of these women and men while overseas.” Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League protested “Shylock represents the medieval stereotype about Jews and remains an offensive characterization to this day.” But the networks were silent. 

In 2013, Jay Leno asked President Obama about a new global travel alert: “What do you say to those cynics who go, ‘Oh, this is an overreaction to Benghazi’ — how do you respond to that?” Obama cavalierly replied "The odds of people dying in a terrorist attack obviously are still a lot lower than in a car accident, unfortunately."

The four brave men murdered in Benghazi are not as important as John McCain, apparently. The networks all highlighted the Leno appearance, but CBS and NBC didn’t bother airing that snippet. ABC ran it with a bland introduction from reporter Jon Karl: “The president sought to downplay the threat.” Even The Washington Post skipped it, but gushed over the president in a blog titled “Obama's top five zingers on The Tonight Show.”

These are the same networks that opportunistically whacked McCain as an obstacle to Obama ten years ago. Take ABC’s Terry Moran on Nightline on October 13, 2008: “[F]rom John McCain and Sarah Palin....attacks that stoked the anger at Republican rallies, where there have been reports of attendees yelling things like ‘terrorist’ and ‘kill him.’” Moran asked Joe Biden: “Are you at all concerned in this home stretch for Senator Obama’s safety?”

Perhaps ABC should start demanding that ABC apologize publicly. 

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