Anderson Cooper: Keeping them honest(?)

The estimable Anderson Cooper of CNN has leaped into the newly-revived controversy over the “very fine people on both sides” remark which Pres. Trump made after the fatal Charlottesville, Virginia riots in August of 2017.  As I’ve noted in a previous blog, that remark is in the news again because Joe Biden very prominently referred to it in the video announcing his run for the presidency.

Just days ago, Mr. Cooper broadcast a “Keeping Them Honest” piece that focused on the Pres. Trump’s original remark and his insistence, after the Joe Biden video, that that remark had “perfectly” responded to questions he had been asked about the riot.

The Anderson Cooper piece is a little over eight minutes long.  It features video of white men marching in the night with flaming tiki torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us.”  It also shows clips from Pres. Trump’s August 15, 2017 press conference, during which Pres. Trump made his “very fine people on both sides” comment.  What is remarkable is this: the CNN piece leaves out the part of the August 15 press conference that is most relevant to the question whether Pres. Trump was including neo-Nazis and white nationalists among the “very fine people” to whom he referred.

(A video of the portion of Pres. Trump’s August 15, 2017 press conference that deals with the Charlottesville riot is here.  The video is approximately 16 minutes long.  The transcript that follows begins at 10:45 and ends at 13:14.  The “very fine people” remark is in bold-face, for ease of reference.)

Reporter: The neo-Nazis started this thing; they showed up in Charlottesville to protest….

Trump: Excuse me, excuse me.  They didn’t put themselves down as neo-, and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.  You had people in that group—excuse me, excuse me—I saw the same pictures as you did.  You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from “Robert E. Lee” to another name.

Reporter: [Unintelligible]

Trump: No, George Washington was a slave-owner.  Was George Washington a slave-owner?  So, will George Washington now lose his status?  Are we going to take down—excuse me—are we going to take down, are we going to take down statues to George Washington?  How about Thomas Jefferson?  What do you think of Thomas Jefferson?  You like him?  Okay, good.  Are we going to take down the statue?  Cause he was a major slave-owner.  Now, are we going to take down his statue?  So, you know what?  It’s fine.  You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people—and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally—but you had many people in that group, other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay, and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.  Now, in the other group also you had some fine people, but you also had trouble-makers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats.  You had a lot of bad, you had a lot of bad people in the other group, too.

Reporter: Sir, I just want to understand what you’re saying.  You’re saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly?  I just want to understand what you’re saying.

Trump: No, no.  There were people in that rally—and I looked the night before—if you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.  I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones.  The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people—neo-Nazis, white nationalists—whatever you want to call them.  But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest.  Because—I don’t know if you know—they had a permit.  The other group didn’t have a permit.  So, I only tell you this: there are two sides to a story.  I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment.  But there are two sides to the country

The transcript demonstrates that, after making the “very fine people on both sides” remark, Trump says in his answer to the next question: “You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people–and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally–but you had many people in that group, other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay, and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”  And in answer to the next question, Trump calls the neo-Nazis and white nationalists in Charlottesville “rough, bad people.”

Anderson Cooper’s piece does reference Trump’s description of neo-Nazis as “rough, bad people,” but it makes no reference whatsoever to Trump’s assertion that the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists “should be condemned totally.”  That is the clearest, strongest, most unequivocal condemnation the president makes of neo-Nazis and white nationalists, and yet CNN omits it entirely from a piece that supposedly reports on the president’s failure to condemn neo-Nazis and white nationalists.

It is obvious to anyone other than Anderson Cooper and his staff at CNN that Pres. Trump said, in his August 15 press conference, that neo-Nazis and white nationalists “should be condemned totally”–the video shows him saying precisely that.  So, all of Mr. Cooper’s assertions and implications that the president was characterizing neo-Nazis and white nationalists as “very fine people” are simply false, because the president explicitly stated that those two groups “should be condemned totally.”

Perhaps Mr. Cooper knows for a fact that not a single person in Charlottesville, of all the thousands who were there that weekend, was there to peacefully demonstrate against the removal of the statue and the renaming of the park.  It would be interesting to learn how he could possibly verify such a fact.  Did CNN interview every one of the thousands of persons involved in those demonstrations?

But, even if Mr. Cooper were correct about the absence of peaceful protesters, all that would show is that Pres. Trump was factually mistaken when he said peaceful protesters were at the demonstrations.  It would not show that Pres. Trump characterized neo-Nazis and white nationalists as “very fine people,” and it could not possibly show that, because the president stated very clearly that those two groups are to be “condemned totally.”

Mr. Cooper’s broadcast displays the motto: “Keeping them honest.”  Before he worries about “their” honesty, he ought to work on his own.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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