New York (CNN Business)A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
The Christmas season news cycle is often defined by the lack of serious news. News anchors and executives take vacations. Newspapers run end-of-the-year features. Taped shows take over.But you didn’t expect President Trump’s final Christmas in office to be quiet, did you?Tuesday evening’s burst of presidential pardons and bluster about blowing up the Covid relief deal felt, to this reporter, like a harbinger of a hyperactive week. “Wow,” Brian Kilmeade said while filling in for Laura Ingraham on Fox. “This show certainly changed quickly. So did everybody else’s schedules as they try to get home for Christmas.””There are 29 days left” in the Trump presidency, and “every day the volume gets turned up,” John Berman, filling in for Anderson Cooper, said on “AC360” Tuesday night. “With a madman in the WH,” David Gergen tweeted, “we are entering the most dangerous four weeks of his presidency.”Read MorePardons pushed by conservative mediaTuesday’s pardons —- including two for men who pleaded guilty in Robert Mueller’s probe — “kick off what is expected to be a flurry of pardons and commutations in the coming weeks as Trump concludes his term,” CNN’s team noted.You don’t have to look hard to see Fox fingerprints on some of these. Fox’s Pete Hegseth championed pardons for Blackwater security contractors who were convicted in 2014 for their roles in the 2007 Nusoor Square shooting in Baghdad. All four men were pardoned by Trump on Tuesday night, and the WH announcement specifically cited Hegseth’s support.For the record — Elie Honig on “CNN Tonight” re: pardons: “I think he’s just getting warmed up…” — Chris Cuomo’s comment about Trump’s pardon strategy: “He’s got four weeks left. What else is he telling people right now. ‘Do this for me, do that for me,’ what? He can get them out of anything…” — Rep. Adam Schiff, a last-minute booking on “Cuomo Prime Time,” said Trump’s message has been consistent: “If you lie for me, if you’re loyal to me, I will abuse my power to protect you…” — Matthew Continetti writing for the New York Times: “Most of the central institutions of the American right,” including talk radio, blogs, and cable, have embraced “reality-TV authoritarianism…”Trump’s surprise video Once again, the president taped himself giving a speech and didn’t let the press in, which means that the WH-supplied video is the only record. According to CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond, “few advisers knew the president was even taping the five minute spot from the garland-bedecked diplomatic room, in the basement of the residence.” More: “A White House official said aides were blindsided by the President’s video and threat to upend the relief legislation. Officials were under the impression throughout the day that the President intended to sign” it. >> As NPR’s Tamara Keith observed, “being a spokesperson for President Trump is always perilous,” and “today is just the latest example:” Deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern said Trump ‘indicated his intent’ to sign the relief bill just one hour before Trump suggested otherwise…Is Trump just trying to “stay in the news?” Proving my point about journalists trying, and sometimes failing, to log off for a bit, NBC Capitol Hill correspondent Leigh Ann Caldwell tweeted this on Tuesday night: “All I have to say is that Trump has had 7 months – literally since the Heroes Act passed – to engage in COVID relief talks. But he never did. To threaten a veto is purely to make people he’s angry with — GOP — miserable and to stay in the news. Ok I’m going back on vacation…” >> Jeremy Diamond made a similar point on “CNN Tonight,” suggesting that Trump’s videos are a bid for attention… What he’s hearing on TV…That’s what it is about. That’s what it is always about! Complaints about the spending bills piled up on Tuesday, including on Fox, with criticism of the $$ included for foreign aid, special interests, etc. “Questions about some of the provisions in the legislation that aided other countries” were “raised on ‘Fox & Friends,’ one of Mr. Trump’s favorite morning news programs, on Tuesday,” the Times noted.On Newsmax, Greg Kelly’s fill-in host Seb Gorka called the spending plan an “utter travesty” and went on and on about “pork” and “corruption.” Later in the evening, after Trump lodged his veto threat, Tammy Bruce, filling in for Sean Hannity, complained about the “entrenched political swamp” that pushed the $$ through Congress without giving lawmakers time to read it: “It’s degrading, it’s disgusting and demeaning.” She sounded just like Trump… which is just how he likes his favorite shows…Deeper into delusional territory Trump’s social media team posted a second, longer house-made video to Facebook, and it was all about his refusal to accept the election outcome. He falsely claimed he won in a “magnificent landslide” and said “we cannot allow a completely fraudulent election to stand.” Shouldn’t the news coverage acknowledge that this is delusional? >> WaPo’s latest on the state of play, titled “Republicans plunge into open battle over attempts to overturn Trump’s loss to Biden,” says that “advisers and allies who have called Trump to check in or wish him a merry Christmas have been encouraged to go on TV and fight for him amid complaints that others are not doing so…”Trump rewarding his friends, chapter 1,432 Brian Lowry writes: “As members of the Trump orbit like Hope Hicks and Ric Grenell receive government appointments, a quick thought: It’s by no means a sure thing, but I suspect many of these folks could sign more lucrative deals in the media space. And before you talk of the blowback that would elicit — in some instances rewarding people for what’s seen as their bad behavior — I’ll just note that blowback has seldom stopped the most attention-hungry outlets in the past…”