CBS Claims Trump Is at the End of His Fuse

The Feb. 16 CBS Evening News characterization of President Trump’s whirlwind press conference was unique.

“Today we learned the length of the president’s fuse. 28 days,” said anchor Scott Pelley. “After four weeks of being blocked by courts, challenged by Congress and held to account by the public, President Trump held a hasty news conference and went on offense with the familiar tools that built his career: bluster, bravado, exaggeration and a few loose facts.”

In contrast, NBC chose to explain how differing political factions interpreted the news conference.

“It’s been written about from the left as a meltdown and heralded on the right tonight as the trashing of the media in an epic news conference,” said NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt. “And whether viewed from the right, left or center, what we witnessed at today’s news conference by President Trump is pretty much unlike anything we’ve heard from behind a presidential podium.”

ABC introduced the story by summarizing its highlights.

“He unleashed on the leaks, on the intelligence community and on the press,” said World News Tonight’s David Muir. “The president blasting reports that his administration is in chaos, calling it, in his words, a ‘fine-tuned machine,’ saying he doesn’t think there has been any president who has done as much as they have in just 28 days.”

Was CBS right to characterize Trump in this way?

“I do think the intro was wrong,” said Matt Storin, the former editor of The Boston Globe. “Here’s why: reporting should never attempt ‘mind-reading.’ Pelley gave no source for the ‘fuse’ comment, leading one to believe it was a judgment and an assumption.”

Ken Auletta, an author and communications columnist for The New Yorker, disagreed:

“I believe CBS correctly showed in his own words that the President is angry, thus short ‘fuse’ after 28 days and his first press conference is an accurate description.”

After monitoring nightly, it appears CBS has a tendency be more antagonistic towards Trump than the other two networks.

“There is a difference between being OK – and I’d say [CBS was] – and being good, which I would say NBC was in Holt’s balanced opening,” Storin said. “I think Holt was wise and realistic in noting that there would be those who loved Trump’s performance.”

Auletta emphasized the importance of balance.

“Sometimes, however, I fear that we walk into a Trump trap by not being more careful with some of our language, thus feeding the perception that the press is out to get Trump,” he said. “One of the biggest problems journalists face in a polarized country is that many perceive us as partisan, and therefore don’t accept our “facts” as facts.”

More from the pros:

Matt Storin:

  • Even if it’s Trump being Trump, I believe it is unusual behavior for a president and should be treated as such.  So, now, I don’t think the networks should accept it as normal.  My main concern with CBS was mind reading. (They could have been right that he was pissed.  In fact, probably he was.  I just don’t think they could have known that.  Now some might say it was fair comment to jump to that conclusion, but I don’t agree.)

Ken Auletta:

  • They each played it differently. CBS’s report had more vivid language, particularly from the anchor who did not play the more traditional moderator role that NBC and ABC anchors did. But I admired that all three networks devoted an amazing amount of time to a president who displayed an array of behavior – anger, untruths, blaming others (including the press for many sins, especially malicious “fake news”), etc.
  • If we are to play the role of the Fourth Estate, the public’s representative, we have to be careful not to show off how tough we are. For instance, I just watched a report on CNN that devoted too many minutes to showing that the extravagant cost of Trump’s four weekends in Palm Beach. In fact, the first half hour of Jake Tapper’s 4 p.m. newscast was unrelenting in reporting negative Trump stories. I greatly admire Tapper and the tough journalism he’s practiced. But sometimes I feel reporters are showing off, reinforcing the elitist stereotype almost half the country embraces when they think of the press.

Maggie Gottlieb

Maggie Gottlieb is a senior broadcast journalism major and public policy minor from southern Maryland. Her interest in politics began when the 2016 campaign season did, holding internships with NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Cox Media Group’s Capitol Hill bureau, among others. She covered the Democratic National Convention and went to London for election week for overseas reaction. She plans to work in television news production when she graduates this coming May. In her free time, Maggie enjoys Twitter-stalking politicians and playing with her two dogs, Taz and Ringo. She can be reached at or via Twitter @gottmags.

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