Earlier today, we published an editorial excoriating Rep. Andy Harris for turning a blind eye to President Donald Trump’s disastrous news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin and suggesting that the whole controversy about his flagrant denial of the truth related to Russian interference in the 2016 election was irrelevant because it had been reported in the mainstream media. We went on to question whether his contempt for the press explained in some way his hesitation to join the other nine members of Maryland’s congressional delegation in urging President Trump to award the late Capital reporter Wendi Winters with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her efforts to save her colleagues during last month’s attack on the paper’s newsroom even at the sacrifice of her own life.
We apologize. We were wrong.
We were not nearly harsh enough.
Our colleagues at the Capital published a heartfelt and, under the circumstances, quite measured, editorial Wednesday morning urging Dr. Harris to sign on to the request for Winters. It followed a news story in that publication noting the unanimous support from the Democrats in the delegation to the request, initially offered by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, and concluded, quite sensibly, “If this letter to the president stands without Harris’ name affixed to the bottom, its chances of success are severely diminished because of the president’s view of our profession and his political opponents. We don’t think politics should be a part of this process. Winters’ actions deserve recognition from the White House. Harris should not only sign the letter but become a vocal advocate in convincing the president to make this award.”
On Tuesday, Vox reported on comments Dr. Harris made at a Freedom Caucus event about President Trump’s news conference, in which he ignored the view of America’s intelligence agencies and law enforcement community to side with Mr. Putin in denying the evidence that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Dr. Harris said: “Given the unfriendliness of the press to the president, why should we concentrate on the press conference?” He added: “I disregard and discount anything that involves the mainstream media press.”
We would have disagreed, but it would have at least made some modicum of sense if Dr. Harris had stood in support of President Trump’s performance at his news conference this week with Mr. Putin. He could have accepted President Trump’s later explanation that he misspoke when he said he couldn’t see why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 presidential election and that he really meant he couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t have done so. He could even claim membership among the “many people of higher intelligence [who loved the] press conference in Helsinki,” per Mr. Trump’s Wednesday morning tweet.
But that news conference wasn’t some contrivance of the press. No one caught President Trump in an off-guard moment. It was an orchestrated event designed to place Messrs. Trump and Putin together on the world stage. And it wasn’t filtered through the viewpoint of a reporter or misleadingly spliced together by a video editor. It was broadcast live internationally, and the entire world could see and hear exactly what President Trump said.
We’re accustomed by now to President Trump denying he said things that there is clear audio or video evidence of him having said, whether it’s the infamous comments recorded on the Access Hollywood tape or his recent denigrating remarks about British Prime Minister Theresa May. But Dr. Harris’ stance on the Trump-Putin press conference is something else altogether — a suggestion that we should simply ignore objectively verifiable truth for the sole reason that it was observed by the mainstream press.
Which is why we find so odd Dr. Harris’ efforts to make clear, late on Wednesday after days of questions about the matter from reporters, and criticism in the Capital and on baltimoresun.com, that he does, in fact, support a Medal of Freedom for Winters. Either he cares what’s in the mainstream press, or he doesn’t.
We appreciate Dr. Harris’ condemnation of the killings and his offer of prayers for the victims.
But the official explanation for his hesitation, that he was waiting to review the facts and the letter signed by seven other Maryland congressmen and two senators, is absurd. Witnesses say Winters charged the shooter, armed with only a trash can and recycling bin, saving her colleagues’ lives while sacrificing her own. What more does he need to know? To sign on would have cost him nothing personally or politically. Why the hesitation? Does his disregard and discount of anything that involves the mainstream press extend not just to what they write but to their lives as well? Or does he only care when the mainstream media he claims to disdain criticizes him for it?
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