Editing Trump

Blake Hounshell, editor in chief of Politico magazine, provided a good example this morning of a problem with media. Here’s his tweet in a screenshot, because I hope he deletes it.

The link in the Blumenthal tweet is to an article in which Vice President Mike Pence is quoted.

“There was some talk about the Libyan model last week, and you know, as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” Pence said Monday.

When it was noted that the comparison could be interpreted as a threat, Pence told Fox News: “Well, I think it’s more of a fact.”

The talk about a Libyan model came from National Security Advisor John Bolton and from President Donald Trump. But they were talking about two different Libyan models. Bolton said that he expected North Korea to hand over their entire nuclear program as Libya did in 2003. Trump said that if they didn’t, the United States would “decimate” them, as was done to Libya in 2011.

It’s often hard to understand what Trump is saying. This clip is more difficult than usual, but it’s pretty clear that Trump says the word “decimate” and talks about “the Libya model” in a different way than Bolton has. Before that, he said something about providing security to North Korea.

The Washington Post headline emphasized that part of the statement, even though, to my ears, the threat of “the Libya model” was more emphatic, with Trump spending more time on it.

Trump offers reassurance that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un would remain in power under nuclear deal

Acton may be right; David Nakamura and Philip Rucker may have been steered in that direction by White House aides telling them what it was that Trump was supposed to say.

Hounshell may have been subject to the same explaining, or perhaps the idea that the President is threatening war against North Korea in plain words is too uncomfortable for reporters to convey to the public.

Trump spouts word salad, a toss-up of ignorance, shaky sentence structure, vague referents, complaints, accusations, and threats. It is not the job of reporters to impose coherence on that word salad. It’s perfectly acceptable (to me, perhaps not to Trump) for them to report “In a windy set of impressions and inaccurate references, Trump contradicted Bolton and seems to have threatened war against North Korea, while putting forth a conditional security guarantee.”

Part of what they say should recognize the difficulty in knowing what Trump means. Trying to pin him down in his short press availabilities is difficult, but should be attempted. Yes, his words flow freely, unhinged from meaning, and he often refuses to answer requests for clarification.

Blake Hounshell didn’t respond to any of the comments and questions about his tweet, nor did he back up his conclusion. That conclusion will shape how he and Politico cover Trump’s actions toward North Korea. Hounshell believes, according to the tweet, “The U.S. won’t attack North Korea.” Apparently he doesn’t believe Trump’s own words. He should tell us why.

Update: Here’s a much more thoughtful and critical analysis of Trump’s words.


Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.

90 replies
  1. 1
    MattF says:

    There’s also the question of just whose policy is being ‘stated’ by Trump. Bolton’s? Some other aide? It’s a big WTF, and I’d guess that the Koreans would like to know who, if anyone, is pulling the strings.

    ETA: Other than Putin.

  2. 2
    Mnemosyne says:

    It’s so comforting to know that the MSM spends all of their time reporting what they think the president* meant to say rather than what he actually said.

  3. 3
    MattF says:

    @Mnemosyne: The only thing that’s certain is that Trump really wants that Nobel Prize. Because Obama won one.

  4. 4
    terraformer says:

    Along with everything else, this is what happens when you essentially delete the State Department. Career staff with multiple decades of experience and expertise know how to carefully word statements to ensure clarity on both sides of an issue.

    But instead we have El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago (h/t Mr. Pierce) spewing forth and the Mustachioed Menace holding at least some of the strings. What a shitshow.

  5. 5
    trollhattan says:

    Is it even legal for Bolton and Miller to be in the same room? My god, the possibilities.

    Odds Trump thinks “decimate” is ten Playboy Bunnies?

  6. 6
    Mnemosyne says:


    I hope the Nobel committee is smart enough not to let the baby have his bottle, because it would only make him 1000 times worse than he is now.

  7. 7
    Ruckus says:

    Blake may not be able to comprehend that a president would offer to destroy a country if said president didn’t get what he wants. Which of course changes from day to day or depending on who he talked to last.

  8. 8
    MattF says:

    @trollhattan: Well, there is a recurring argument about the meaning of that particular word.

  9. 9
    Ladyraxterinok says:

    @MattF: Read they gave Obama Nobel prize at beginning of his term because they thought he’d be assasinated soon after inauguration.

  10. 10
    catclub says:

    @trollhattan: 1;1, 1:10, 10:1

  11. 11
    MisterForkbeard says:

    The press has a long history of cleaning up Trump’s statements so it kind of makes sense.

    This is actually a core defining mechanic of Trump as a politician, and I think it explains why he’s relatively successful despite having obvious mental issues. He vomits forth a forceful word salad, and rather than try to make everyone actually pay attention or to parse what he says and criticize it, reporters tend to clean it up and/or make assumptions about what Trump was TRYING to say.

    In doing so, you end up with the ‘best’ representation. They can’t let his words stand on their own because they’re nonsensical. So they fill in for him, and doing so provide a structure and meaning that quite literally isn’t there. This is why we ended up with paeans to Trump’s (fake) populism, tax plans, commitment to social security, etc.

  12. 12
    the Conster says:

    On a brighter note, the devil is coming to take his due. Sinkholes have opened up at both the White House and Mar-a-Lago.

  13. 13
    Formerly disgruntled in Oregon says:

    Editing Trump = Enabling and normalizing Trump

  14. 14
    p.a. says:

    If he agrees to leave office while admitting publicly, under oath, that the whole Republican party is a treasonous criminal enterprise, they can rename the Nobels after him for all I care.

  15. 15
    Mary G says:

    @the Conster: The one at Mar-a-Loco was exactly a year ago, on 5/22/17. Today, the White House. Mother Nature is not happy.

  16. 16
    Mnemosyne says:

    @the Conster:

    I thought you were kidding, but holy shit.

    Even if fire and brimstone started shooting out of them, Trump’s Christianist followers would still claim he’s the most godly man who ever godlied and that’s why the Devil is trying to get to him.

  17. 17
    Jeffro says:

    Why, it’s almost like the country is being run by a bunch of COMPLETE FUCKING MORONS. Almost. Because in addition to being COMPLETE FUCKING MORONS, they are also world-class grifters and also TRAITORS, did I mention that?

    I’m still crazy-ass steamed over those GOP CongressScum who went on TV today and demanded that we just FUCKING THROW AWAY TWO-PLUS CENTURIES OF THE RULE OF LAW in this country, and set up a Special Counsel to investigate the Special Counsel. Picture Obama getting Nancy Pelosi to do that. Picture HILLARY trying to get away with that shit. Unbelievable.

  18. 18
    Jeffro says:

    @the Conster: @Mary G: @Mnemosyne:

    I’m telling you, this shit is getting weird. I haven’t opened a bible in almost four decades and I’m starting to wonder if maybe, just maybe…

  19. 19
    Elizabelle says:

    @p.a.: No they can’t. No winning for crime. He just leaves. Ignominiously.

    @MisterForkbeard: I wonder if the press realizes they are demeaning their profession by doing that.

    And I think they have screwed the pooch by accepting Trump’s tweets as a legitimate source of news. They should ignore the White House crew and get out there and report. Make Trump abide by standards and practices that legitimate Presidents operated under. He is all about PR and adulation.

  20. 20
    MattF says:

    @Jeffro: Didn’t realize that sinkholes had spiritual significance. One of those ‘inscrutable Gentile’ things?

  21. 21
    randy khan says:

    @Mary G:

    The metaphors, they write themselves.

  22. 22
    Jeffro says:

    @MattF: I have no idea if they have spiritual significance or anything…it’s just weird. I’m not normally superstitious*, but the earth opening up at the two main places the Ill Douche lays his bloated head? Weird.

    *okay maybe a little

  23. 23
    randy khan says:

    The issue with this Administration is not that Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, or even that he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but that so many people in the Administration are just as bad as he is.

  24. 24
    MisterForkbeard says:

    @Jeffro: If the Christianist Right can blame hurricanes on the gays, we can blame Trump for the fucking sink holes at the White House AND simultaneously at the President’s home. That seems much more on the nose.

    Alternately, maybe it’s another nation deploying Sinkhole Generators to try and save us from Trump. Canada, perhaps?

    EDIT: Nope, a year apart and not simultaneous.

  25. 25
    ruemara says:

    @Jeffro: 2 places and literally a year apart. May 22, 2017 was a sinkhole at Mar a lago

  26. 26
    sigaba says:

    Is Hounshell interpreting Trump’s words, or is he simply asserting (or maybe, taking for granted) that a terrible thing simply won’t happen because he’s assuming that some kind of endogenous normalizing force will take over, therefore it doesn’t matter what anybody actually says.

    You know, kind of like how everybody assumed Hillary was going to win.

  27. 27
    Mary G says:

    The pictures in this tweet – the 2018 American negotiators are all slumped white hairs, Chinese look like members of the Obama administration, exact opposite in pictures of 1901 Boxer protocol.

    Currently making the rounds on Chinese social media:
    Young Chinese vs. old Americans during 2018 trade talks
    Young Western reps vs old Qing envoys at the signing of the 1901 Boxer Protocol
    A lot changes in one century. pic.twitter.com/lfi0hWhf9K— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) May 22, 2018

    ETA: put in some breaks

  28. 28
    MattF says:

    @ruemara: I think we should wait until there are 666 sinkholes. Then we can advocate abandoning the White House as uninhabitable.

  29. 29
    VOR says:

    The Daily Show’s Desi Lydic did a piece on how translators clean up Trump’s syntax and message. She encouraged them to let the real Trump shine through. https://youtu.be/7qL1un6NPZA

  30. 30
    trollhattan says:

    So, October then?

  31. 31
    Jay says:


    Nope, not Canada. More likely Mexico utilizing ancient Mayan technology from the Yucatan.

  32. 32
    sukabi says:

    EVERY article that reports on what Drumpf says should open with his exact quote, an explanation as to why it doesn’t make any sense in its current format, followed by all his contradictory statements for the last year.

    They should never try and clean it up or “interpret” it. Always pissed me off when they’d ‘clean up’ after Bush the dumber, doing it for Drumpf is absolutely aiding and abetting an enemy. If they aren’t concerned about the country, you’d think they’d want to protect their own profession, he’s very definitely coming for them.

  33. 33
    lapassionara says:

    I think Trump wants a war with North Korea, if he does not get the regime to “denuclearize.” Which he won’t. Bolton certainly wants a war with NK. Lindsay Graham seems to be cool with it.

    In other news, Trump is using an unsecure cell phone. Isnt something along those lines the reason why history’s greatest monster should be locked up?

  34. 34
    Gelfling 545 says:

    @MattF: if you can see the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich, everything is open to interpretation (delusion).

  35. 35
    Peale says:

    Which Libyan solution are they actually talking about here? The one where we bomb them in retaliation for Lockerbie then walk away and wait 15 years for an accord? Or the one where we have an accord and then bomb them 15 years later anyway? I’m just curious….

  36. 36
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    I didn’t see it, but apparently Lindsey Graham was getting his war-horny on as the situation with Korea seemed to fall apart. I think a big part of his toadying to trump– other than the fact that he’s a born toady– is he really thinks he’ll get a big war out the Beast.

    (OT: John Heilemann and the bellowing nitwit Donnie Deutsch are gonna duke it out after Miss Wallace’s class out on the MSNBC playground)

  37. 37
    rp says:

    I think it’s possible to interpret Hounshell as saying “the US isn’t going to attack N. Korea b/c ultimately Trump is all hat and no cattle, so he’s talking out of his a**.”

  38. 38
    jl says:

    WH and Mar-a-Lago sinkholes are/were small, low energy. Loser sinkholes.
    From pix I saw, Mar-a-Lago was slightly higher energy than the one at WH. That should sooth Trump’s ego and tamp down on war talk for a day or two.

  39. 39
    Mike in NC says:

    Latest report is that the meeting in Singapore probably won’t take place, with Trump variously blaming China or Obama. How many of those stupid coins did they order? Nothing like wasting taxpayer dollars.

  40. 40

    @rp: I think that’s a reasonable interpretation, but I don’t feel confident of it, especially with Bolton in the picture.

  41. 41
    JMG says:

    @rp: I got that interpretation, too.

  42. 42
    jl says:

    @rp: But with arrogant savvy of a corporate hack media person, he’s stating it as fact, not his opinion. So, I think it is an unprofessional and dangerous mindset for the guy to be tweeting like that.

  43. 43
    TenguPhule says:


    If he agrees to leave office while admitting publicly, under oath, that the whole Republican party is a treasonous criminal enterprise, they can rename the Nobels after him for all I care.

    No, I demand my 239 pounds of flesh from him.

  44. 44
    gene108 says:


    All lot of Americans resent people with a bigger vocabulary than they have. They like people, who speak at an elementary school level. It doesn’t make them feel insecure.

    Realized this in 2000, when I thought no one would vote for Bush, becaus he so badly mangled the English language. But I was wrong. People loves him for it. It made him authentic

  45. 45
    TenguPhule says:


    Which Libyan solution are they actually talking about here? The one where we bomb them in retaliation for Lockerbie then walk away and wait 15 years for an accord? Or the one where we have an accord and then bomb them 15 years later anyway? I’m just curious….

    The one which has Trump winning the Nobel peace prize before having North Korea burned to ashes.

  46. 46
    Mary G says:

    Sing it with me!
    Bomp, bomp, bomp, another one bites the dust:

    Michael Cohen’s Business Partner Evgeny Freidman, aka the Taxi King, Agrees to Cooperate as Part of Plea Deal and per a source "will assist government prosecutors in state or federal investigations" https://t.co/JKL3mzXdqv— Wendy Siegelman (@WendySiegelman) May 22, 2018

  47. 47
    MisterForkbeard says:

    @gene108: Trump doesn’t speak at a elementary school level. He speaks incoherently. There’s a difference.

  48. 48
    rp says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: That said, I agree with you that he should take some time to clarify his thinking rather than sending one-off, cryptic tweets. he’s in an important position and should let his readers know how he views this situation.

  49. 49
    TenguPhule says:


    you’d think they’d want to protect their own profession,

    Professional Stenographers of the 5th Reich is their chosen profession.

  50. 50
    TenguPhule says:

    @the Conster:

    Sinkholes have opened up at both the White House and Mar-a-Lago.

    Didn’t Rudy Guiliani demand to be shown a sign of Trump’s guilt?

  51. 51
    Corner Stone says:

    God damn Dani Pletka. Fuck you Chuck Todd.

  52. 52
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Mary G: Ooh, that could get interesting.

  53. 53
    jl says:


    Didn’t Rudy Guiliani demand to be shown a sign of Trump’s guilt?

    It’s not even big enough to swallow Rudy, so don’t think it counts. Either on his own terms or by common sense standard.

  54. 54
    gene108 says:


    There is no way to “translate” Trump into another language and make it sensible without smoothing it over.

    There is no sentence structure with Trump. Palin was bad with her word salads, but she at least talked in complete sentences.

    Trump doesn’t do that. He starts talking about one thing, then wanders off mid-sentence to a new thing and back to what he started about.

    I pity interpreters trying to translate what he is saying. It is damn near impossible

  55. 55
    Calouste says:

    @ruemara: I guess on 5/22/16, the shitgibbon sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the presidency, and the devil, just like a lot of other beings who have dealt with the shitgibbon, realizes he’s been had.

  56. 56
    Baud says:

    I heard that a hellmouth is opening up at the White House.

    ETA:. You guys have it covered.

  57. 57
    gene108 says:


    Look at the vocabulary he uses. None of it is beyond a 6th grade reading level. None of it. And there’s no feeling he knows any bigger words to use.

    That reassures a lot of folks he is not talking down to them.

  58. 58
    MomSense says:


    A couple years ago I gave on meteors and switched to hoping for sinkholes. They are terrifying, effective, and spare the rest of humanity.

  59. 59
    Elizabelle says:

    @Mary G: Mueller drops a sign.

    T storm rolling in here. Cool and breezy and dark. Thunder in distance.

  60. 60
    jl says:

    @Baud:Low energy sinkhole. Couldn’t even trip up the typical Baud 2020! supporter, sober or not.

  61. 61
    Mary G says:

    @Gin & Tonic: @Elizabelle: Sometimes I like to imagine Mueller as a border collie taking a bunch of scattered sheep and forcing them into a tighter and tighter group.

  62. 62
    ruemara says:

    @Calouste: He realized it was just pocket lint

  63. 63
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Mary G: NYT is saying Freidman pleaded guilty to tax evasion as part of his deal. Who here wants to bet that Michael Cohen’s tax filings will withstand a thorough audit?

  64. 64
    TenguPhule says:

    @Corner Stone:

    God damn Dani Pletka. Fuck you Chuck Todd.

    What did they do this time?

  65. 65
    smintheus says:

    I don’t think Hounshell was trying to efface Trump’s stupidity or deny Bolton’s and Pence’s threats. He was rejecting Blumenthal’s characteristically stupid cheerleading for Trump & Co.

    Hounshell is calling the Trumpling’s bluff. He is saying, almost certainly rightly, that NK is not a 4th rate military power and therefore the US is very unlikely to start a war that would get very bloody very fast. Yes Trump is unhinged, but he is also a bully. He will back down from any fight that looks dangerous.

    ETA: rp said the same thing up thread.

  66. 66
    trnc says:

    “In a windy set of impressions and inaccurate references, Trump contradicted Bolton and seems to have threatened war against North Korea, while putting forth a conditional security guarantee.”

    How about, “We are unable to decipher the meaning of this statement, but will spend no additional time trying because he will probably say something that counteracts it soon.”

  67. 67
    trnc says:

    @MattF: Which really surprises me. I’d think that he’d want nothing to do with something Obama won and would instead spend all of his days saying the Nobel is worthless.

  68. 68
    eemom says:

    Editing Trump

    Can’t we pleeez just delete him instead? #lowhangingfruit

  69. 69
    Mary G says:

    The House passed the bill to roll back Dodd-Frank today. (WaPo) It passed 260-59. Only 58 Democrats voted no. Bad look, gives cover to “both sides are in hock to Wall Street” view.

    ETA: deleted the part where I complained it was now hard to find breakdown of House votes. They moved it, but it’s still on the front page.

  70. 70
    jl says:

    @Gin & Tonic: New report said plea deal was for state level charges, and I’d assume connection to Cohen would concern state charges too. So, presidential potential pardon loses some more leverage.

    And, question for BJ experts. My impression is that the evil FBI ‘spy’ in the Trump campaign was an informant who contacted the FBI based on what he knew if deviltry by Trump operatives, the FBI did not insert him into the campaign. Is that correct, or not? Thanks in advance.

  71. 71
    germy says:

    @Mary G:

    Also, too, the house changed its website so you have to click through four obscure links to see the breakdown of the vote when in the past there was a link right on the front page.

    My cat buries her waste also.

  72. 72
    trnc says:

    @rp: But either way, Hounshell’s declarative statement appears to speak for the pres or imply that he understands DT’s thought process rather than making it clear that it’s his own belief. Furthermore, even an accurate reading of any given word salad is meaningless because DT is totally id based, so we really have no idea what will push him over the edge on any given day. IE, I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll start a war, but I sure as won’t bet what the stupidest snowflake in the world with a great deal of power will do to make himself feel important or to distract from bad news.

  73. 73
    Ruckus says:

    The devil sold his soul to drumpf.
    So now drumpf finally has one. Low mileage for sure, and only good for fun and torture, but drumpf is giddy, this is the first time he’s had one at all.

  74. 74
    KithKanan says:

    @trnc: The Presidency?

  75. 75
    Mary G says:

    @germy: I had to change that because while they moved it, it’s still on the front page of House.gov.

  76. 76
    germy says:

    Lesley Stahl asked Trump in semi-private meeting why he’s always attacking the press. His answer: “I want to demean you and discredit you so that when you do negative stories about me, no one will believe you.” @deadlineclub #deadlineawards— vanessa gezari (@vanessagezari) May 22, 2018

  77. 77
    debbie says:


    And yet, he ends up demeaning himself, his office, and this country. Whocouddanode?

  78. 78
    trnc says:

    @KithKanan: Ha! Good point, but still different because it comes with actual power, plus obtaining it was a way for him to repudiate Obama and Obama’s preferred candidate.

  79. 79

    […] Cross- posted at Balloon Juice. […]

  80. 80
    YetAnotherJay formerly (Jay S) says:

    @trnc: Doesn’t the Nobel come with $1 million? I hear he doesn’t have any money.

  81. 81
    KithKanan says:

    @trnc: Is there evidence that he cares about the actual power nearly as much as the “Then everyone will see how great I am and they’ll be FORCED to say nice things about me”? I could see him thinking that about the Nobel, too.

  82. 82
    sukabi says:

    @jl: those aren’t sinkholes, those are the remnants of Melania’s collapsed escape tunnels…

  83. 83
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @sukabi: To what address would like your internet to be sent?

  84. 84
    MisterForkbeard says:

    @Mary G: That IS surprising. Pelosi was out earlier trying to get people to vote against it. I wonder if this was just “No one seems to care and I can’t stop it anyway, so might as well not endanger my funding.”

    That’s about as close as I can get.

  85. 85
    jl says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: The secret history of First Family WH escape attempts is an explosive story waiting to be told.

  86. 86
    Jay says:


    Halper was at a Cambridge Conference, organized by unknowns at this time, that put “Western” Security Officials in the same room as “Russians”. Halfer noticed the Russians set Gen. Flynn up with a hot young Russian. Flynn continued “the relationship” online as her “General Misha” for a while. So, the Conference series, and the Russian use of “honeytraps”, and “Western” Security Officials such as Flynn, either to dumb to understand security protocols, or too arrogant to think they applied to them, all attracted lots of Counter Intelligence activity and attention, and not just from the FBI, but also from Western Partners.

    And all this was years before the election.

    From Cohen to Flynn, Treason Tribbles campaign and Transition team, plus the early White Supremacy House pulled half a dozen separate Counter Intelligence active investigations and “watch lists”, all into the same room,

    All seperate from Трамп/Russia at the time.

    The Трамп Campaign became a gathering of treason and foreign influence akin to a Mafia Conference.

  87. 87
    Gravenstone says:

    @ruemara: Then allow the sinkhole of 5/22/19 swallow Trump whole, wheresoever he may be at the time.

  88. 88
    Fair Economist says:

    @Mary G: From the link:

    Former congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the 2010 measure’s authors, said that he opposed the regulatory rollback, but it does not undo the rules he helped pass nearly a decade ago.

    “This is not a ‘big number’ on the bill,” Frank said in an interview. “It’s a small number.”

    Even Frank thought the rules should be rolled back some, but he does think they’ve been rolled back too far.

  89. 89
    tamiasmin says:

    It’s interesting that Trump said ”decimate,” a word that once had a very particular meaning. It’s been degraded, like so many other words, and now means no more than to destroy a lot of people or things. But the original idea was to line up enemies or victims in a circle and then go around the circle killing every tenth person. Just one out of ten (unless you kept going around). It seems too forbearing for the likes of Trump and Bolton. Of course, in North Korea that would still amount to millions of dead, so maybe that’s enough.

  90. 90
    TenguPhule says:


    But the original idea was to line up enemies or victims in a circle and then go around the circle killing every tenth person. Just one out of ten (unless you kept going around).

    Actually the original idea was that you made the other 9 people kill the 10th one as a punishment. The Romans were hardcore that way.

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