Donald Trump openly extorted an allied nation to solicit interference in the 2020 presidential election. And he sees nothing wrong with that. That’s not just because Trump depends on having no one in the White House to say no to even his most extreme demands, but also because he demands that his bubble be held fast against news that might be less than complimentary. Even in the midst of his rambling press event on Wednesday, Trump took time out to praise “great men” Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. But just as Trump’s surrounding himself with sycophants is part of his problem, so is filtering out anything that isn’t the information equivalent of his own rallies. That’s true of the news he watches and of the memos he gets.
As The Washington Post reports, it wasn’t always that way. Former chief of staff John Kelly was aware of Trump’s tendency to split his attention between Twitter and Fox News—or tweeting things from Fox News—and put in some rules such that whatever was coming to Trump had to first get past him. Kelly, for all his faults (and being the architect of some of ICE’s worst abuses along with a staunch nationalist are quite the faults), seemed to be interested in getting something approaching facts under Trump’s nose at least occasionally. He also seems to have hinted now and then that Everyone’s Favorite White House Resident wasn’t.
But the truth did not interest Trump. Neither did the idea that 100% of Americans were not wearing the red hat. Whether it was a “record-setting” inauguration or Obama putting a “wiretapp” on Trump Tower, Trump has always seized on any story hinting that he is doing better than expected, or that those he sees as his opponents are doing worse than expected. Once Trump’s heels are dug-in on a story, no matter how ridiculous, he will not drop it, and will continue to search for anything that seems to support his initial claim, even if it requires moving farther and farther out into the shadows of wingnuttery to find it.
With Kelly gone, Trump’s media diet consists entirely of, as the Post puts it, “a buffet of conservative television and Internet articles.” That diet is leaving Trump blind to threats, and to the damage his actions are really causing.
As one example of how cherry-picking the most Trump-friendly media is making Trump blind, much of what Trump—and Giuliani—have been pushing concerning Joe Biden’s actions in Ukraine came from articles by discredited reporter John Solomon at The Hill. Solomon not only fueled the Biden story, but was the primary source for claims that the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, had given Ukrainian prosecutors a list of people who were not to be touched. Solomon didn’t just write about these topics, and about claims that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had been set up; he went on Fox News to talk about it.
Solomon has been a regular and consistent source of “bombshells” concerning Biden, Manafort, and all things Ukraine. That includes pointing out prosecutors and members of parliament who become the focus of efforts by Giuliani. The problem is, the primary source Solomon cited in those articles has since denied that there was any truth to those claims.
Investigations by Bloomberg and others have confirmed that, at best, Solomon was snookered by Ukrainian politicians looking to get on Trump’s good side. At worst, he simply created an anti-Biden narrative and began filling in some names. Solomon’s name didn’t come up in the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but in a way he was as responsible for the whole series of actions in Ukraine as Giuliani.
Because, as has happened a thousand times on as many topics, Trump read or heard something he thought was bad for an opponent. He then became convinced it had to be true, and kept trying to make it true, no matter how many Giuliani trips to Kyiv came up dry. Trump just kept on insisting that there had to be someone who would support the story he wanted to believe—even if it took extortion to find that agreement.
Trump took in an article that had an explosive claim about Biden. And in an effort to “prove” that claim, Trump sent Giuliani on a series of trips to Ukraine, Spain, and elsewhere—with the State Department providing him information and support. When that didn’t generate the proof Trump wanted, he put a hold on Ukraine’s military aid and got on the phone with the country’s president to tell him to make up something about Biden. Or else. And all of that appears to have come from stories that were written by Solomon, who had a terrible reputation for producing incomplete and slanted reporting.
In a way, Solomon was the author of Trump’s downfall. Because he wrote an anti-Biden article, and Trump’s media diet is all junk food.