Cable news wants Trump to feel bad about John McCain. It'll never happen.

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Sen. John McCain (Photo: AP)

Much of cable news has been in full shame mode since it was reported that White House staffer Kelly Sadler dismissed Sen. John McCain by saying that his opinion “doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.” The cynical joke was made during a White House meeting and leaked to the press, which took it and ran. Ever since, CNN and MSNBC have been breathlessly pressing every elected official they can get in front of a microphone to badmouth Sadler and to extend the blame to President Trump, who many feel ought to apologize for the behavior of a member of his staff. Meghan McCain asked for a public apology from Sadler; she’s still waiting for it.

A couple of things are at work here. It’s obvious that Trump has created an atmosphere in which anyone can say any appalling thing anyone wants, without fear of reprisal. Why did Sadler feel free to take a swipe at a dying man? Because her boss took a swipe at McCain’s war record during the presidential campaign. If Sadler were compelled to apologize — due to pressure from her employers or (now here’s something you don’t hear anymore) out of simple decency — then it follows that Trump, the man who unleashed this behavior, ought also to apologize for his own McCain insult. We know that Trump never apologizes for anything. This has now been institutionalized in the White House.

But the other thing about this controversy is the excessive coverage of it. CNN and MSNBC talk about it throughout their news cycles: Whenever a hired talking head isn’t being asked for an opinion about it, one of those networks’ news correspondents is shoving a microphone in front of an elected official to ask that person for an opinion. On CNN, Manu Raju sticks out his lower lip and corners Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, essentially demanding that she demand an apology from Sadler and Trump. On MSNBC, you can wake up to Morning Joe going over the whole thing ad nauseam, along with waspish sarcasm from Mika Brzezinski, who on Wednesday morning said about White House efforts to make the controversy go away, “This is like trying to make an apple stop rotting.”

Disgust over Sadler’s remark is understandable, but the overcoverage of it eventually makes TV watchers resentful that it becomes moral posturing that squeezes out coverage of other news stories. (Fox News has its own way of overcovering this story, which is to blame the unknown person who leaked Sadler’s remark — it’s a strategy that the White House itself, in the form of Sarah Sanders, has now adopted, because Trump and Fox News are hand-in-glove collaborators.) To ask Trump to apologize for anything is a waste of time. It’s better to keep holding him accountable for all the other things he’s doing, and simply honor the continuing life of John McCain on the senator’s own terms, not Trump’s awful ones.

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