Early in this century, environmental groups began sending costumed staffers to Washington press conferences. The Center for Biological Diversity (or maybe it was Greenpeace?) sent a couple of people in polar-bear fur suits to a climate-change presser, and because so little happens at such things, amusing pictures turned up on the wire services. We’ve got time for one more question …. Yes, from the polar bear.
The earliest such incident broadcast on cable news was in June 1997, when Arizona Gov. Fife Symington addressed local and national press regarding the mass UFO sightings over Phoenix three months earlier. Fearing that society was about to break down, Symington had a staffer dressed in a space-alien costume led out in handcuffs by state troopers. (Symington, a childhood friend of Baltimore filmmaker John Waters and the person who saved Bill Clinton from drowning off Hyannis Port, Mass., in 1964, would admit a decade after the Phoenix Lights event that he watched a mile-wide triangular UFO soar over a local mountain preserve.)
These trivialities came to mind on another night of wild weather in our nation’s capital, great sheets of rain coming down again, the National Weather Service warning that the weeklong deluge was causing ancient trees to topple, so sodden is the ground. And on this waterlogged evening, when no-one in particular had assembled for the promised nightly protest in Lafayette Square with its grand old trees straining to stand upright in the liquified soil, it was announced by video clip on Twitter that several people in furry shark costumes were on their way to “make noise” at the even-shrinking anti-Trump protest on the north side of the White House.
When the weather won’t cooperate and the crowds won’t appear and ideas are in short supply, the professional political class will hire some bodies in rental costumes that will be instantly destroyed by the relentless rain. They did get out of the car, at least.
It was another busy day in the Twitter-Trump world of rotting garbage: Cohen phone recordings, the Russian NRA/sex spy, Trump canceling his next handler’s meeting with Putin after Putin canceled it on Trump, a White House correspondent banned from some pointless Rose Garden photo op for daring to shout the usual questions from the press pool, and of course the Freedom Caucus stunt move to impeach Trump’s own deputy attorney general appointee, Republican Rod Rosenstein. Not because Rosenstein was brought in by the Trump administration to replace the politically-removed deputy AG Sally Yates, not because Rosenstein authored the nonsense memo giving Trump false cover to fire James Comey, but because Rosenstein … has uncontroversially followed Justice Department policy and U.S. law in allowing the Republican former FBI director Robert Mueller to do his assigned job in investigating the Russian intelligence operation that put Trump in the White House. It’s almost like Rep. Jim Jordan would rather be known for something beyond smirking and snickering while his wrestling students were forcibly masturbated by the team’s doctor.
Mass protests may spring up yet. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven.
With the failure of the Lafayette Park nightly protests to build into something larger, something historically important, I had another couple of nights to kill before the flight out of this strange town. It would’ve been nice to spend these hours at bars, with old friends and comrades. Instead I was compelled (by the nice people who run this publication) to find things to cover.
Slate’s congressional correspondent Jim Newell suggested I get a guest press pass and hang around the Capitol for an afternoon. Hard pass, as they say. I cannot look at these charlatans in person without wanting to strangle them all, for the good of humanity. It’s one of many reasons why I was never comfortable living here, even when working at UPI and serving as a minor member of the Washington media. It is unnerving to be eating at a restaurant or drinking at the bar or browsing a bookshop or walking around town and see one loathsome enemy of the people after another, just standing around in their humidity-soaked button-downs and blue blazers—people who spend their few working days dreaming up ways to torture the poor and the sick, the means of wrecking and despoiling the air and the water and the national parks and the very ground we walk upon. Monstrous morons who then expect to be seated first and then demand a mostly black working class treat them with respect. It’s a wonder there aren’t a dozen fatal poisonings a day in Capitol Hill restaurants. It could be easily blamed on lax EPA regulations. “Terribly sorry, the oysters were infected by climate-change-induced heart-eating fungus. The manager sends condolences to the congressman’s fourth wife and domestic staff in Florida.”
But I did go to the CSPAN building to witness a panel of DC website reporters—they make a living from working for websites!—talk to an attentive group of college students pursuing journalism jobs. The panel was curiously not televised on CSPAN, even though the room was equipped with video cameras, but this freedom from broadcast scrutiny allowed one of the panelists to frequently and floridly curse. The event’s title was, “An Evening With DC Press: Covering Politics in the Trump Era,” so of course the panelists were asked if there were any surprises involved with covering Washington during the reign of a petulant creep who will never understand that the DC press corps is not the same “media” he learned about from feeding stories about his sexual prowess to Page Six. Newell answered first, assuring himself a droll quote in this piece:
“I guess I didn’t foresee, a couple of years ago, that the president would be calling us the enemy of the people for doing our job and covering the news.”
Aída Chávez from The Intercept added that she hadn’t really imagined, going into media work a few years back, that she might be “accused by those in the establishment press of being a pro-Russia agent”—something Intercept reporters are routinely accused of, especially on Twitter, when their reporting strays outside the lanes of the Russia-Trump narrative.
The Daily Beast’s White House reporter, Asawin Suebsaeng, was bold enough to remind these college students that the current White House’s bluster rarely achieved what former attorney general Eric Holder did to the concept of a free press during the Obama administration. And this went on for a while, until the subject changed to the only thing of interest to job-hungry would-be journalists: How do we get your jobs? At which point I let my field recorder follow the conversation while I looked at Twitter.
Headed out of the CSPAN building for the after-event drinks part of the evening, Tierney Sneed from Talking Points Memo pointed out a middle-aged schlub on the lobby couch, poking dumbly at his phone. Devin Nunes. Fox News is in the same building.
“We could take him out right now,” I said. As usual, no-one volunteered to join me.
“But I do have something I want to ask him about the Mueller investigation,” Sneed said, because the Mueller investigation is her beat.
Ultimately, like always in this morally compromised city, we walked away—left him sitting there playing Candy Crush or whatever—because the Irish pub was waiting around the corner.