On Thursday after the release of the Mueller Report, New York Post reporter Nikki Schwab noted that the Marine Corp musicians at a White House event played “Edelweiss.” New York Times reporter and longtime Trump critic Maggie Haberman responded on Twitter: “Does anyone…at the White House understand the significance of that song?” In an astounding lack of cultural awareness, Haberman apparently presumes that “Edelweiss” conveys some nefarious message, perhaps because of its recent use as the introductory theme song for the Amazon TV series “The Man in the High Castle,” which fictionalizes a post-WWII America occupied by victorious Nazi and Japanese fascists.
Of course, the melody originated much earlier. Far from being an ode to oppression, the song in fact celebrates the beauty and authentic nationalism of Austria juxtaposed against the foreign tyranny of Nazi Germany. It was written by two legendary American Jewish composers, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, for Broadway’s “The Sound of Music” in 1959 and made especially famous by the Christopher Plummer rendition in the 1965 Academy Award-winning movie version. Perhaps we should ask Maggie Haberman if she knows that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?
While Miss Haberman’s misplaced innuendo may seem frivolous, it actually points to a key element of the press’s continual mistreatment of President Trump and the MAGA movement. Too many reporters and media mavens display an appalling dearth of historical knowledge, or at the least a total unwillingness to place events of the Trump political phenomenon into a larger context.
For instance, often when media mouthpieces assail Trump and his White House, they breathlessly bemoan the “unprecedented” nature of the supposed offenses. For them, history literally began on Nov. 8, 2016. For example, they regularly castigate the president as a bigot and, without proof, throw around the term “racist” with alarming regularity, seemingly unperturbed that the exact same accusations have been leveled consistently against Republicans for decades. For example, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman described a 1980 Ronald Reagan campaign event as an overture to “George Wallace inclined voters” and stipulated that there are “many other examples of Reagan’s tacit race-baiting.” In evaluating the government’s inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, media critics howled with accusations of racist disregard against President George W. Bush. When the late Sen. John McCain died last year, he was lionized by the mainstream media, partly out of very deserved respect for his war heroism serving America as a young man. But that same adoring media, so quick to embrace the senator post-2016 because of his anti-Trump positions, had eviscerated McCain as a racist in 2008 for daring to oppose their anointed political messiah, Barack Obama, in that presidential race. For example, the New York Times editorial page criticized McCain’s 2008 campaign advertisements against Obama as “racially tinged.” Weeks before that election, CNN’s Don Lemon asked via Twitter if “the McCain campaign is creating a political environment that is inciting hate and hate speech?”
But all that history escapes a media afflicted with a serious case of amnesia, ready to constantly call Trump racist and protest haughtily at the horror of such a “new” political sin. In the same way, President Trump is referred to as a habitual liar so often in mainstream media that the very phrase starts to lose meaning, much like the false narratives of racism. I have learned over the last three years of defending and promoting the Trump agenda on cable news that the vast majority of Trump’s so-called lies can be explained as opinions, exaggerations, and even jokes – if he is granted the benefit of the doubt.
Admittedly, I am unaware of any politician who is 100% consistently, overtly honest and never twists facts to fit a narrative. For example, recall President George H.W. Bush’s famous “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge. Or, consider Obama’s famous “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” promise. Present White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders received appropriate criticism over misstatements that she conceded to the Mueller investigators were wrong and never corrected publicly. But where were similar hysterical calls for the resignation of former White House spokesman Jay Carney, who prevaricated about a far more material matter when he covered for Secretary of State Clinton? He spread an abject falsehood to a willing media regarding her Benghazi failures with the lie “we have no information to suggest it was a pre-planned attack. … The unrest we’ve seen across the region was in response to a video.”
A healthy republic requires a vigorous, honest, and historically informed Fourth Estate. Sadly, trust in our media has eroded for decades. A 2018 Axios poll revealed that 70% of Americans believe traditional media outlets purposefully publicize fake or misleading stories. An earlier Associated Press survey showed that only 6% of citizens view the press with “a great deal of confidence.” The near-total failure of the mainstream media to fairly report on President Trump will only make this already untenable situation all the worse. To start earning back trust from a skeptical public the media should, for starters, acknowledge history and place present events correctly in context. “Edelweiss” is not a Nazi anthem. Media figures regularly call GOP politicians racist. All politicians play with the truth.
Steve Cortes is a contributor to RealClearPolitics and a CNN political commentator. His Twitter handle is @CortesSteve.