Rudy Giuliani is a great American, a stand-up guy and a solid law-and-order patriot who obviously loves his country, loves his president and wants to do right by both.
But he needs to stop talking now.
The first red flag comes when the mainstream media starts to love on you, more so than ever before. Call it the John McCain test. The second?
When you start to generate easy-to-read-and-tweet headlines that suggest, in just a few short words, that hey now, maybe the Democrats are right to keep on investigating this president for Russia collusion-slash-obstruction-of-justice after all.
Then you know: It’s time to take a little break from the media.
What Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, just said on Sunday’s “State of the Union,” when host Jake Tapper pressed on whether Donald Trump spoke with Michael Cohen about his looming testimony to Congress: “I don’t know if it happened or didn’t happen. It may be attorney-client privilege if it happened, where I can’t acknowledge it. But I have no knowledge that he spoke to him, but I’m telling you I wasn’t there then. … So what if he talked to him about it?”
That’d be “perfectly normal,” he went on to say.
OK. Well and good. But out of that, CNN grabbed gold for the headline.
“Giuliani,” CNN wrote, “says Trump might have talked to Cohen about testimony.”
Let the tweeting and social media sharing begin. In an age when nobody actually reads stories, but only headlines, this headline, not Giuliani’s rational remarks, is the news cycle.
For instance: George Conway, husband to Kellyanne, tweeted this: “‘Perfectly normal?’ It’s perfectly insane for witnesses in or subjects of a criminal investigation to be discussing testimony.”
It’s not the only time the media’s made mash out of Trump’s attorney lately.
“Giuliani says Trump pursued Moscow tower throughout ‘16, raising questions,” one Reuters headline recently blasted, as based on comments Giuliani made on “Meet the Press” on NBC. And that gave the Democrat Mark Warner, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, opportunity to opine: “That is news to me. And that is big news. It’s remarkable that we’re two years after the fact and just discovering it today.”
“Rudy Giuliani says he is ‘100% certain’ Trump did not tell Cohen to lie to Congress,” a headline from USA Today that suggests, oh ever so casually, that Trump may indeed have lied — he just wasn’t told by Giuliani to lie.
And then, of course, there was the head-spinner of all head-spinners — the headline of days ago that’s still fueling the media firestorm of today’s cycles: “Giuliani: I never said there was no collusion in the campaign,” is how CNN put it.
Giuliani is a fine legal mind, a strong pitbull-type political fighter.
But the White House, at least for the time being, ought to politely ask him to sit still and stay out of the media eye.
It’s not that Giuliani is saying anything that’s actually damaging to the president.
It’s that he’s walking right into the media headline trap and giving the anti-Trumpers in the press — and boy, there are a lot of them — easy pickings to run the types of headlines that damage. And since few read past the headlines — the easily tweeted, easily shared headlines — the perceptions of a wrong-doing president can very quickly become the reality.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.