Gen. John Kelly stepped to the podium in the White House briefing room and delivered a bare-bottom, wire-brush, red-rash public spanking of the political press Thursday — the likes of which we have never seen in the age of modern media. Except, perhaps, every single time President Trump addresses the media or hurls fiery bolts of Twitter lightning in their general direction.
But as mere mortals go — even the U.S. Marine general variety — Mr. Kelly’s was a virtuoso performance.
Blunt where bluntness was needed. Elegant where elegance was warranted. And throughout, incredibly funny and brutally scathing, even in his kindness.
“You need to develop better sources,” he told reporters flatly, without a hint of gaiety. Nervous laughter from the assembled press corps.
Ordinarily, military generals are not called on to give journalism lectures. But you don’t have to be an expert in journalism to know how utterly ridiculous these people have gotten, “reporting” about made-up squabbles between people inside the administration.
“Mommmmmmmmyyyyyy! Rex called Don a ‘moron.’ Waaaaaaahhhhhh!”
The only impulse regular American grown-ups have to this kind of nonsense is to send the stupid little tattletale to his room until he shuts up his whining.
And that’s basically what Mr. Kelly did.
“Although I read it all the time, pretty consistently, I’m not quitting today,” he began his parry with the press. At this, the dolts laughed, as if the joke were on somebody else.
“I don’t believe — and I just talked to the president — I don’t think I’m being fired today. And I’m not so frustrated in this job that I’m thinking of leaving.”
Asked what, in fact, was the level of his frustration, he responded in very direct, soldierly terms.
“My only frustration — with all due respect to everyone in the room — is when I come to work in the morning and read about things I allegedly said or things Mr. Trump allegedly said or people who are going to be fired or whatever.
“It’s just not true,” Mr. Kelly said. “I mean no disrespect to you all.”
Perhaps not. But that only makes his damning verdict all the more withering.
Once the press got going with questions, it was clear they were going to be slow learners.
“Does President Trump believe that the people of Puerto Rico are American citizens —”
“Yes,” Mr. Kelly interjected flatly.
The lady kept rolling. “— who deserve the same access to federal aid as people who live in Texas and Florida?”
“Yes,” Mr. Kelly repeated, for the slow of hearing.
“What is his tweet about then?” she demanded, accusatorially.
Mr. Kelly cocked his head slightly and asked carefully, “Which tweet?” He gave her a sideways, skeptical glance.
“The tweet that says we can’t be in Puerto Rico forever!” Her voice trilled toward hysterical.
Slowly and respectfully, Mr. Kelly explained: “I think he said the U.S. military and FEMA can’t be there forever, right?” He widened his eyes, like a parent hoping to see the silly wayward child grasp some new concept.
“He did,” she murmured. “Right.”
Allowing Mr. Kelly — always the respectful Marine general — to move on and expound at some length on the nature of first responders arriving in a disaster zone and how their job from Day One is to work to eliminate the job of being there in the first place.
For a fleeting moment, the innocent American citizen might have held hope that these peacocks and press lizards might learn something.
But a quick run through the cable channels and all anybody was talking about were the tweets. The palace intrigue. Who called whom a “moron.”
Or, as Mr. Trump calls it, “Fake News.” Somebody should check their licenses.
• Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter via @charleshurt.
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