Last week, The New York Times detailed President Donald Trump’s press conference, and wrote: “A Jewish reporter got to ask Trump a question, it didn’t go well.”
The Times described the “tongue-lashing” the reporter, Jake Turx from Ami Magazine, received from the president for asking about the recent surge of anti-Semitism.
CNN, also aghast, had a headline emblazoned: “Trump tells Jewish magazine’s reporter to ‘sit down,’ blames anti-Semitism on ‘the other side.’”
The Washington Post, also clearly upset, explained to readers that Mr. Trump’s “failure to reject hatred is emboldening bigots.”
Yet, Mr. Turx wasn’t insulted — heck, he actually understood Mr. Trump’s point of view.
It was late in the marathon presser and Mr. Trump joked he was looking for a “friendly reporter.”
Mr. Turx was called upon and asked a very complex question about the rise in anti-Semitic attacks.
“He said he was gonna ask a very simple, easy question. And it’s not a simple question, not a fair question,” Mr. Trump said, noting, with a bit of anger, that he hated the charge of being called anti-Semitic.
Mr. Turx didn’t seem to mind, he was just happy to be there. Ami Magazine is an Orthodox Jewish weekly based in Brooklyn, and he’d been covering Mr. Trump for more than two years.
“So many times I’ve seen some of our colleagues in the media describe certain events as — in the way it relates to the Jewish community in a certain light that no one in our community saw it that way,” Mr. Turx, a Hasidic Jew, explained on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” of the press conference.
“[Mr. Trump] has done an unprecedented amount of outreach with the Orthodox Jewish community. And so, we understand why this is so hurtful for him, to see himself being called anti-Semitic,” Mr. Turx said, adding he doesn’t believe Mr. Trump is an anti-Semite.
Indeed, the day prior, Mr. Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House, where the men’s friendship and warmth was visible.
When a reporter asked the president if he felt his administration was “playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones,” contributing to the surge of anti-Semitic acts, Mr. Netanyahu was quick to step in and defend.
“I’ve known the president and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time, and there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump. I think we should put that to rest,” Mr. Netanyahu said sternly.
But he doesn’t know the American press. When they sense they have an opportunity to paint Mr. Trump as a fear-mongering racist and xenophobe, they’ll pound that narrative home.
On Tuesday, Mr. Trump dealt with the issue head-on.
“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he said during a tour of the African-American history museum in Washington.
Still, it wasn’t good enough.
That afternoon White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked six times about Mr. Trump’s remarks.
Why weren’t his words more forceful? Why didn’t he make the remarks last week? Does he regret that? Did he only make the statement because he was pressured into it by his daughter Ivanka? Doesn’t he know he’s the president, and it’s his job to deliver a broad and forceful message to Americans? Words are one thing, but what is he actually going to do about them?
Of course, Mr. Spicer’s answers weren’t good enough — they were never going to be good enough.
Repeatedly, since his Inauguration, Mr. Trump has declined to play identity politics and has instead looked to unite all Americans under one umbrella — their love and duty to country.
To separate is to divide, and this country is already divided enough.
But clearly, that message isn’t resonating with the press, or Mr. Trump’s critics, who are used to spelling out our differences, either by sexuality, race, gender or ethnicity.
It’s unclear whether Mr. Trump’s critics will ever come around. They’re so blinded by their own preconceived notions of him — their actual hatred of him — they’ve lost all objectivity.
Take Steven Goldstein, the director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, which issued a sharply worded rebuke to Mr. Trump’s anti-Semitism statement.
“It was just a pathetic Band-Aid on cancer and the president and his henchman Steve Bannon, a notorious anti-Semite, have done nothing to change the circumstances. Nothing,” Mr. Goldstein lashed out on CNN Tuesday afternoon.
“[Trump] couldn’t even accept that there was a reporter who is Jewish, who is not controversial, and who is not looking to be confrontational. Yet the president saw somebody dressed in a kippah in Jewish garb and thought that person was going to be hostile. That says it all.”
It actually says nothing. Mr. Goldstein took the entire exchange out of context. But he wasn’t done there. Asked why he thought all of these anti-Semitic attacks were happening, he had a simple answer: “Because our president is creating an incubator of hatred.”
It’s going to be an unrelenting four years.
• Kelly Riddell is a columnist for The Washington Times.