Trump's 'misconstrued' claim an empty one thanks to Jake Tapper

The GOP candidate was given more than 20 chances by Tapper to avoid being misconstrued. So forget it.

After a year of owning the press, Donald Trump looks like he might be in serious media decline.

It started last week with his attack-the-press conference May 31, and it keeps getting worse. Tuesday's statement that his words about the ethnic background of a judge were "misconstrued" isn't going to help him one bit in getting out of the hole he's dug the last seven days.

This shift in Trump's media performance feels like it could become a big story with lots of moving parts. But let me just focus on one slice of it: The resonance of Jake Tapper's interview last week with Trump. It shows the power a conscientious and skilled TV interviewer can have in framing a national debate -- a power even greater than all of Trump's vaunted ability to deflect and spin TV interviewers.

Tapper gave Trump chance after chance -- more than 20 chances in all -- to clarify his allegation that Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not fairly rule in a case involving Trump University because of his "Mexican heritage."

Finally, Tapper asked, "If you are saying he cannot do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?"

For the record, Trump said, "No, I don't think so at all."

No misconstruing there, Mr. Trump. You had every chance and then some 20 more to say what you wanted to say.

But the media news to me is that Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, Tuesday was echoing Tapper's language in denouncing Trump's comment about the federal judge as racist.

Ryan called Trump's remarks "the textbook definition of a racist comment," whereas Tapper said "definition of racism." But the influence of the CNN journalist on the speaker of the House in indisputable.

I am hitting this so hard, because I have had so many cable show hosts tell me they don't have any journalistic responsibility.

But that's a lie -- an enormous responsibility-dodging lie. Even prime-time shows hosts like Fox's Bill O'Reilly play a huge role in framing the way the nation talks and thinks about the most important issues confronting it. That's an all-important journalistic function.

Tapper showed us the reach of that power -- all the way up to Ryan, the politician many on the right like to portray as the smartest guy in the room. He is certainly one of the most powerful.

Tapper did a great public service with that dogged interview of Trump and the precise articulation of that question about the "definition" of racism.

He pinned Trump to the wall with the candidate's own reckless, dangerous and ugly words like no other TV interviewer has done.

Sorry, Mr. Trump. Misconstrued can't touch that.

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