Despite being subjected to a daily diet of Trump headlines and images, I am unprepared for the president’s alarming incoherence when he’s unedited
by Lenore Taylor edited by O Society September 21, 2019
As a regular news reader, I thought I was across the eccentricities of the US president. Most mornings in Australia begin with news from America – the bid to buy Greenland, adjustments to a weather map hand-drawn with a Sharpie or another self-aggrandising tweet. Our headlines and news bulletins, like headlines and news bulletins everywhere, are full of Trump.
As a political reporter for most of the last 30 years I have also endured many long and rambling political press conferences with Australian prime ministers and world leaders.
By watching a full presidential Trump press conference while visiting the US this week, I realised how much the reporting of Trump necessarily edits and parses his words, to force it into sequential paragraphs or impose meaning where it is difficult to detect.
The press conference I tune into by chance from my New York hotel room is held in Otay Mesa, California, and concerned a renovated section of the wall on the Mexican border.
I joined as the president was explaining at length how powerful the concrete was. Very powerful, it turns out. It was unlike any wall ever built, incorporating the most advanced “concrete technology”. It was so exceptional, would-be wall-builders from three unnamed countries visited to learn from it.
There were inner tubes in the wall also filled with concrete, poured in via funnels, and also “rebars” so the wall would withstand anyone attempting to cut through it with a blowtorch.
The wall went very deep and could not be burrowed under. Prototypes were tested by 20 “world-class mountain climbers – That’s all they do, they love to climb mountains,” who were unable to scale it.
It also is “wired, so we will know if somebody is trying to break through,” although one of the attending officials declined a presidential invitation to discuss this wiring further, saying, “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing it,” which Trump said was a “very good answer.”.
The wall is “amazing,” “world class,” “virtually impenetrable,” and also “a good, strong, rust colour” that could be painted later. It is designed to absorb heat, so it is “hot enough to fry an egg on.” There are no eggs on hand to try, but Trump does sign his name on it and speaks for so long the TV feed eventually cuts away, promising to return if news ever is made.
In writing about this not-especially-important or unusual press conference I’ve run into what US reporters must encounter every day. He does, at one point, concede would-be immigrants, unable to scale, burrow, blow torch or risk being burned, could always walk around the incomplete structure, but this would require them to walk a long way. This seems to me to be an important point, but the monologue quickly returns to the concrete.
In writing about this not-especially-important or unusual press conference, I’ve run into what US reporters must encounter every day. I’ve edited skittering, half-finished sentences to present them in some kind of consequential order, and removed repeated remarks that make little sense.
In most circumstances, presenting information in as intelligible a form as possible is what we are trained for; however, the shock I feel hearing half an hour of unfiltered meanderings from the apparent president of the United States makes me wonder whether the editing does our readers a disservice.
I’ve read so many stories about his bluster and boasting and ill-founded attacks, I’ve listened to speeches and hours of analysis, and yet I am still taken back by just how disjointed and meandering the unedited president can sound. Here he is trying to land the message he delivered at least something towards one of his biggest campaign promises, and she sounds like a construction manager with some long-winded and badly-improvised sales line.
I already understand the dilemma of normalising Trump’s ideas and policies – the racism, misogyny, and demonisation of the free press. But watching just one press conference from Otay Mesa helps me also understand how the process of reporting about this president can mask and normalise his full and alarming incoherence.
Lenore Taylor is the editor of Guardian Australia