Donald Trump was more than ABC’s George Stephanopoulos could handle yesterday morning. He tried hard to counter Trump’s bluster, but in the end he failed miserably on one important question: Vladimir Putin and the killing of journalists in Russia.
When Trump called Hillary a liar and called out Bernie Sanders for lying, Stephanopoulos asked whether he really wanted to go down that road. He challenged Trump’s assertion that, after 9/11, there were “thousands of people cheering in New Jersey.” Without any evidence, Trump continued to insist on his version of events and repeated that he had nothing to apologize for. Stephanopoulos passed up an opportunity to counter with New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie’s confirmation that “it didn’t happen.”
Stephanopoulos also pushed Trump on his new coziness with Vladimir Putin, who had recently praised him. How could he feel “fine” about Putin, Stephanopoulos wondered, citing instances of Putin’s predatory behavior from Crimea to Syria, and including reports of his having killed Russian journalists. (Both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush cited those reports in television interviews this morning.) But Trump was over-the-top argumentative. “Can you give me names of journalists he has killed?” According to Trump, if it happened, it would be “despicable,” but Putin is “innocent until proven guilty,” and he, Trump, hasn’t seen any evidence.
I kept waiting for Stephanopoulos, at a minimum, to cite the work of The Committee for the Protection of Journalists or even Amnesty International. Since 1992, Russia has been the fifth or sixth deadliest country for reporters, with 36 journalists killed there. Trump kept asking if Stephanopoulos could give a single name of a journalist killed there. Well, here’s one who’s pretty well known: Anna Politkovskaya , one of four reporters for Novaya Gazeta. She was gunned down in October 2006, presumably for her coverage of the war in Chechnya and its human rights violations. She had been particularly critical of Vladimir Putin’s role there.
Okay, Donald Trump, maybe there’s no picture of Putin pulling the trigger, but we know how repressive governments work. And former KGB officer Putin would have known how to execute such an opponent while keeping his hands theoretically clean. Two police officers and three Chechnyans were convicted of the killing, but the search goes on for whoever ordered it. Journalist Natalia Estemirova and several others have since been killed as well, according to Amnesty International.
What bothers me about Stephanopoulos’ performance this morning is that, while I might have expected him (or his producer, no doubt in his ear) to remember Politkovskaya, at least he should have been able to cite the work of the outstanding organizations who research and report on these horrible violations.
So far in this campaign, truth is more optional than usual. I wonder: if Donald Trump is able to bamboozle the media as a candidate, can you imagine how he might turn his back on truth and transparency if he were elected President?
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