President-elect Donald Trump broke a decades-long precedent by taking a call from the democratically elected president of Taiwan, which caused the mainstream media to hyperventilate.
First, many journalists thought it must have been a mistake — because, you know, Mr. Trump is just the type of unstable candidate who would threaten to start World War III. It’s what they’ve been warning of all along.
“The problem with being president, @realDonaldTrump, is that the world suddenly takes what you say quite literally,” wrote Jamil Smith, the senior national correspondent for MTV News.
Kim Soffen, a reporter at the Washington Post, tweeted: “I really wonder whether Trump team didn’t *know* they shouldn’t call Taiwan, or just didn’t care.”
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes simply responded to the news with “Honestly, this is just *insane*” and by linking to the Financial Times story, which broke the news.
Matt Pearce, the national reporter for the Los Angeles Times had a simple “whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat” response.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut suggested Mr. Trump’s phone call would lead to war, adding fuel to the already-blazing Twitter fire.
“Foreign policy consistency is a means, not an end. It’s not sacred. Thus, it’s Trump’s right to shift policy, alliances, strategy,” Mr. Murphy tweeted. “What happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. There are major pivots in foreign policy without any plan. That’s how wars starts.”
It was up to a former Obama staffer to put things in perspective, that shaking up the establishment and gaining leverage against China has been something Mr. Trump has been promising to do all along.
“Dear media, do you think a single American cares if China is mad about a phone call?” Bill Burton, Mr. Obama’s former deputy White House press secretary, tweeted. “This. Is. Trump’s. Game.”
Mr. Burton’s tweet didn’t go over too well with the well-heeled, elitist media.
Alex Burns with The New York Times replied: “This is ad absurdum version of the ‘don’t fall for Trump’s distractions’ argument — supposed to ignore call to Taiwan?”
Blake Hounshell of Politico wrote: “What a remarkably cynical statement. This is huge, important news.”
To which Mr. Burton replied: “My problem is the general lack of self-awareness around reporting assumptions about Trump instead of just facts.”
“I didn’t call it a distraction. Trump said he was going to treat China like this and then he did,” Mr. Burton said, adding, “the middle finger to China is the approach he promised. Maybe the consequences will be suboptimal…”
Maybe they will, but, as Mr. Burton correctly points out, Mr. Trump’s plan has been to stick it to China from day one. It’s not as though he opened up communications with murderous dictators like Fidel Castro in Cuba, or the Ayatollah in Iran.
Indeed, in Monday’s paper, The Washington Post admitted Mr. Trump’s call with Taiwan was indeed intentional.
“Donald Trump’s protocol-breaking telephone call with Taiwan’s leader was an intentionally provocative move that establishes in the incoming president as a break with the past, according to interviews with people involved in the planning,” the Post wrote.
As conservative radio talk show host and former House member Joe Walsh tweeted, the press corps had better get used to such things:
“Trump ‘broke protocol.’ Get used to that headline. He’s gonna be breaking protocol a lot. And that’s a good thing. A damn good thing.”