I’ll say this much for ABC News White House correspondent Jonathan Karl: You don’t really have to guess where he stands on President Trump.
Long before COVID-19, Karl had a contentious relationship with the 45th president. This isn’t unusual among the White House press corps — and, to be fair, the man was and is no Jim Acosta. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, however, Karl has become known as a bit of a mask scold, going after President Trump and Fox News reporter John Roberts for not wearing them in situations where they were social distancing.
Karl would later apologize to Roberts, saying that he was “a good reporter who cares about protecting his colleagues and his family. He was practicing social distancing. I did not mean to imply otherwise.”
Trump isn’t getting an apology, even after Karl was alleged to have stepped out without a mask himself in a situation where social distancing was a lot more difficult.
This, again, isn’t wholly unusual. What is unusual is to compare a Trump rally something like “taking your family with you to Fallujah” because you might get COVID-19.
This gem of a quote came after President Trump held an indoor rally in Las Vegas last week, a rally that drew much more than the mandated max of 50 people allowed in an indoor gathering. The rally took place against the protests of Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak due to the state’s ban on gatherings larger than 50 people.
Karl spoke to the National Journal about the event and how the media was covering Trump’s indoor campaign rallies.
At the last indoor Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June, Karl said, there were some organizations that wouldn’t put their reporters in the building.
However, Las Vegas was “the first time that everybody stayed out except for the pool,” Karl said, referring to the smaller group of reporters within the White House press corps that’ll often report back to their colleagues from events with a reduced media footprint.
This is usually because of space, but Karl is saying that, in this case, it’s because of the dangers posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I can’t think of a precedent to this,” Princeton professor Julian Zelizer, an expert on the presidency, told the National Journal.
He said reporters rarely flinch from covering stories that involve physical danger.
‘This is nothing like that,” Zelizer told the National Journal. “‘The president is simply creating a dangerous situation to prove some sort of point. He puts followers at risk, and then reporters who want to cover the story. There is zero sense to what he did.”
Karl has been embedded in war zones and tried to compare the rally to that experience using a parallel that was either clunky, wildly overwrought or both.
“This is not like embedding with the Marines in Fallujah,” he told the National Journal, regarding the contagious nature of the coronavirus. “It is like you are taking your family with you to Fallujah.”
Yes, Karl was trying to compare how dodging the virus compares to dodging bullets. He was also apparently making a clumsy attempt to compare the secondary risk of infection families might face from contact with reporters who were paid to attend the rally to families who actually trapped in war zones — where real bullets threaten real death on a daily basis.
Caution in a time of the coronavirus pandemic is understandable, as is concern for one’s family. However, grossly invoking a recent battle zone where American troops gave their lives fighting international terrorism — against an enemy firing real bullets, with real bombs exploding and real, painful, violent death a very real possibility, is something else.
Social media users were aghast at Karl’s remarks:
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO…
— Jessica O’Donnell (@heckyessica) September 16, 2020
ABC’s @jonkarl: Covering an Indoor Trump Rally is Like ‘Taking Your Family With You to Fallujah’
Pretty insane thing to say, Jon. https://t.co/S1BokvpjV4
— Henry Rodgers (@henryrodgersdc) September 16, 2020
From the news network that did a townhall of “undecided” voters last night. pic.twitter.com/rNkx4bUTLX
— Anthony (@PhinsTweets) September 16, 2020
No, no it’s not. https://t.co/kt4wHdu4TP
— Alex Plitsas 🇺🇸 (@alexplitsas) September 16, 2020
I covered the rally. I also went to several casinos just as packed with just as few masks. We’re all of those people also killing their families? https://t.co/auUs10wtQ8
— David Marcus (@BlueBoxDave) September 16, 2020
This is the problem here, both in regard to Gov. Sisolak’s objections to the rally and Jonathan Karl’s belief that this was akin to covering the Iraq War.
If this is such a problem, why aren’t casinos an issue? Why aren’t Black Lives Matter protests abhorrent, too? Are other aspects of our daily lives like war reporting now?
If Karl had made such a flippant, condescending and inappropriate comparison about any topic besides a Trump really, he probably would have realized such fatuity would break all trust between reporter and news consumer. Yet with the president, he feels perfectly at home making this parallel despite the fact that, given Karl’s age (52) and what one assumes is a relative lack of underlying health conditions, the chance of him dying of COVID-19 is exceptionally low.
A rally isn’t like going to war, no matter how much you disapprove of the cause or the candidate its supporting.
This sort of wild, fact-free claim is an object lesson in how the mainstream media is eroding the trust in itself.
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