It’s the age-old way to trap a country-club politician: Ask them what the price of milk is.
Politicians, reporters, moderators and town-hall questioners seized upon the price of this particular foodstuff to prove that someone is too out of touch to take office after a 1992 debate in which then-President George H.W. Bush admitted he didn’t have any idea what a gallon was worth.
Turnabout is fair play, however, particularly when it comes to White House briefings.
On Tuesday, a reporter identified by The Daily Wire as Bloomberg News’ Justin Sink tried to ask a question about oil, a commodity which has seen dual shocks from a lack of demand and a price war sparked by Saudi Arabia and Russia both increasing production.
“Can I check in on oil again today?” Sink asked the president.
“Oil?” Trump shot back. “Where is it today?”
Things didn’t go very well from there on in, at least if your name was Justin Sink.
“Well, I was wondering if–” Sink responded.
“No, no, where is the price? Give me the price,” Trump said.
“I am not sure, to be honest,” Sink replied.
“How can you ask a question when you don’t know the price?” Trump asked.
You’ve got to love Sink’s response to this one: “I’ll look it up for you.” Yes, because clearly they were both confused here — Trump needed it to be looked up for him.
“Let me do somebody else then,” Trump said, and moved the show right on along.
Well, someone didn’t do their homework. Just for clarification, the price of a barrel of oil was $23.63 at close of day Tuesday — and that’s the problem.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, both Russia and OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, were pumping a glut of oil as part of a production war.
At the end of 2019, according to MarketsInsider, the price of a barrel of crude oil stood at over $61. It dropped steadily until the middle of February; the price was still $53.78 as of Feb. 20.
Over a one-year period, the price has fallen over 60 percent, with the price dropping by more than 50 percent since mid-February.
In addition to the price war, of course, demand has played a key role. That demand has fallen by as much as 30 percent this year due to the the pandemic because people are traveling less, both on land and in the air, according to CNBC.
Last week, the president had called on both sides to make a deal to cut oil production.
“I think they both want to make a deal,” Trump said. “And they’re both smart. They love their countries. They want to make a deal. It’s good. But it’s also good for the world if they do ’cause you save an industry.”
Both Russia and Saudi Arabia, however, had demanded cuts from the United States, as well.
On Friday, Russia and OPEC cut a deal to reduce production by 10 million barrels a day.
The agreement, according to a Financial Times report, “marks a diplomatic victory for Mr Trump, who had pressed Saudi Arabia, Opec’s most powerful member, and Russia to end a month-old price war that had exacerbated the crisis in energy markets.
“He held talks with Prince Mohammed and Mr Putin on Thursday and Friday, having threatened tariffs on Saudi and Russian oil sales if they did not reach a deal. Mr Trump has not had to commit to any mandated cuts by the US.”
But back to Mr. Sink.
For decades, the media has been a decidedly partisan body, and the president either basks in daily batting practice if they’re a Democrat or tries to keep a smile plastered on their face as they’re treated like some kind of heartless space alien from the planet Koch if they’re a Republican. Either way, the media enjoyed immunity; the idea that a president would dare speak back to them wasn’t even on the table, not since Nixon, anyhow.
Trump, on the other hand, loves sparring with the media — something that hasn’t diminished in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, especially with daily media briefings.
There are not infrequent debates about how fruitful this strategy is, but at times like this, few conservatives can deny the strategy works. No one but Sink knows what Sink’s question was going to be, but one assumes it could have something to do with the fact that the United States hadn’t yet convinced Russia and OPEC to agree to a deal to cut oil production.
The problem is that no matter what the question was, Sink didn’t have the requisite knowledge to formulate it.
He didn’t know what the price of oil was even though that’s what he was querying the president about. Much like George H.W. Bush, he managed to come up very short in a very public position.
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t think Trump’s strategy of dealing with the media works, I’d urge you to watch that clip again.
Press freedom is the key to our democracy, but freedom comes with responsibility — a responsibility to get the facts right. When the media has engaged in a hyperbolic war against the White House, cross-examination by the president definitely in order. It’s a bonus when it turns out to be this entertaining.
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