This Week In Politics
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's where we stand on the discredited story that President Obama was born outside the United States. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump dropped that story on Friday after pushing it for five years. Trump then picked up another theory. In a campaign event that was covered on live television, Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton's campaign started this talk when she ran for president back in 2008. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus backed him up on "Face The Nation" yesterday.
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REINCE PRIEBUS: By the preponderance of evidence before us, Hillary Clinton, or her campaign, were definitely involved in this issue. So we can't keep saying it's not true. That's ridiculous.
INSKEEP: The Clinton campaign has denied the whole thing. And Hillary Clinton demanded that Trump apologize to President Obama.
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HILLARY CLINTON: Now, Donald's advisers had the temerity to say he's doing the country a service by pushing these lies. No, he isn't. He is feeding into the worst impulses, the bigotry and bias that lurks in our country.
INSKEEP: That's the start of our discussion as we're joined, as we are most Mondays, by NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts who is in Iowa City, Iowa, this morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: And in our studios here in Washington, Tucker Carlson, Fox News host and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller.
Hi there, Tucker.
TUCKER CARLSON: Hey, good morning.
INSKEEP: Thanks for joining us...
ROBERTS: Hey, Tucker...
INSKEEP: ...Once again.
CARLSON: Hey, Cokie...
INSKEEP: Absolutely no evidence, we can't exactly say that. We cannot say there is no evidence that Hillary Clinton's campaign said something about birtherism because a reporter claims to have heard the birther story from a Hillary Clinton adviser back in 2008. But let me just ask you, Cokie, what difference does it make, since Donald Trump was the person who pushed the story for five years?
ROBERTS: It is Donald Trump's story. I mean, he has pushed it and pushed it and pushed it. We have found dozens of references to it. It was his whole way into politics. It's what changed him from being a businessman into a politician was all of his conspiracy theories around Barack Obama.
And the thing that most white people don't understand is how deeply, deeply offensive this is in the African-American community, that it is seen by many African-Americans as profoundly racist, as questioning their citizenship.
And it is no surprise that the group that Hillary Clinton was talking to, that we just heard that clip from, was the Congressional Black Caucus, where she needs to gin up a lot of support and get people excited about her candidacy because that's a problem for her.
INSKEEP: Tucker Carlson, how big a part of Trump's appeal is it that he pushed this for so long?
CARLSON: Well, I agree with Cokie that he owns it, for sure, whatever its origins. I mean, he gave press conferences about it. But, I mean, he's clearly ridden immigration and trade to the position he's in now. I think his bringing this up again was a godsend for the Hillary people. Cokie's right, I mean, they have a real problem with black voters.
Trump, despite all of this, is outperforming, pretty significantly, Mitt Romney's numbers among black voters in 2012. Why is that exactly? Maybe because as offensive as this issue is to a lot of people, and I think it is, it's not a core issue in America right now. It's not an economic issue. It doesn't speak to, you know, sort of the basic concerns people have about the direction of the country.
INSKEEP: It's a funny thing, though, that in survey after survey, majorities of voters who support Donald Trump believe that President Obama was born outside the United States. It's remarkable how widespread this discredited story has been.
ROBERTS: Well, it's the whole question of de-legitimizing the presidency of Barack Obama. And that is, again, the issue - the part of it that has so completely upset and angered the African-American community.
I mean, after Donald Trump had his, quote, unquote, "press conference" on Friday, the Congressional Black Caucus came out one after another and just excoriated him with James Clyburn saying, look, I recognize dog whistles when I hear them. But this is the cry - the howl of the wolf.
INSKEEP: Is that what it was, Tucker Carlson?
CARLSON: (Laughter) I don't think there's anybody upset more than white liberals. But, yeah, I mean, sure, it's offensive to a lot of people. But again, he's outperforming Mitt Romney.
ROBERTS: Well, but he's not running against a black person. That is Mitt Romney was running against an African-American president...
CARLSON: No, but, I mean, it still raises the question. Like, look, I'm not defending it. I think it was stupid. I thought it was stupid to bring it up again. But is it a core issue? No, it's not. It's an ancillary issue at best. It doesn't really speak to the fact that, for example, life expectancy in rural America has dropped in the past 10 years. So, like, what about that? Right? I mean, who cares, really, in the end?
INSKEEP: Can I just mention - move on a little bit here because both campaigns are now in full mode of rage, I think, at the media at this moment. Donald Trump has been denouncing the news media throughout his campaign, even as he's gotten massive media coverage. He said it's massively unfair. He had another explosion on Twitter over the weekend.
And Democrats and Clinton supporters have been attacking the media for not calling out lies and using the word liar, liar, liar a lot. Who do you think is getting the best of the media right now?
ROBERTS: (Laughter) Pants on fire. I think the - I think that there's really a lot of hand-wringing and navel gazing going on at the moment inside the media, particularly after Friday. John King of CNN said we got played. Donald Trump...
INSKEEP: They played, basically, an entire Trump campaign event live because he promised to announce...
ROBERTS: Exactly right. Because he promised to announce that he would say something on this birther question - goes to his new hotel, gives it a great big fat ad. And has a bunch of veterans talk about him in glowing terms. And that's all played on the cable networks.
And by the way, that Congressional Black Caucus meeting - conference was not. I think CNN played most of it but the others did not.
So, you know, there's a sense that anything he does, anything he says gets covered whether it's worthy of coverage or not or whether it's true or not. So you're now beginning to see The New York Times, for instance, use the word lie in a headline. And a lot of pressure inside of news organizations to say this - you know, this man is speaking lies. And we need to call them that.
INSKEEP: Tucker is chuckling...
ROBERTS: Now, it's a question of whether that happens or not...
INSKEEP: Why are you chuckling about this? What makes you laugh about this?
CARLSON: Because this is like medieval ergotism. This is like mass hysteria. If you want to know how the press approaches Trump, go on Twitter where virtually every beat reporter has an account and sort of reveals what he or she really thinks about Trump.
This is the unprecedented part of this campaign. The press has reached a collective decision that you can't be too tough on Trump. There's nothing about Trump you could say that is unfair. I think that if you don't believe that, then you can see the personal opinions of these beat reporters on full display on Twitter where they're basically saying, you know, I prefer Idi Amin...
INSKEEP: Well, I'll just say - I read some of the same Twitter accounts. And what I see is people reporting what Trump said. And it is kind of remarkable in some cases.
CARLSON: (Laughter) But with pure contempt.
INSKEEP: Anyway. Anyway...
ROBERTS: Remember with Barry Goldwater, at one point, a woman running out of a rally saying, stop those reporters. They're writing down every word he says.
INSKEEP: That's NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts. Thanks very much.
ROBERTS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And thanks to Tucker Carlson, editor-in-chief for The Daily Caller, in our studios, once again, this morning. Always a pleasure to see you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.