News Brief: Trump CNN Tweet Is Criticized, Latest Vatican Shake-Up
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
With a guide to this day's news, including some news made by President Trump, who made himself the center of attention again over the weekend.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Yeah, he tweeted out this doctored video where he body-slams and pummels a guy who has a CNN logo for a head. CNN said the president, quote, "encourages violence against reporters." This promptly shifted the national conversation. Tom Bossert, the president's homeland security adviser, appeared on ABC News, presumably to talk homeland security. Instead, he was played the video, and then he had to defend it.
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TOM BOSSERT: There's a lot of cable news shows that reach directly into hundreds of thousands of viewers, and they're really not always very fair to the president. So I'm pretty proud of the president for developing a Twitter and a social media platform where he can talk directly to the American people.
INKSEEP: Well, let's talk to directly the American people about this because NPR's Scott Detrow is here once again. Scott, good morning.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INKSEEP: Is there a strategy here?
DETROW: Other than attacking the media, there does not appear to be. In his public statements, his tweets, President Trump has spent far more time criticizing cable news, defending his use of social media than talking about the health care bill that his party's trying to pass. You know, people compare Trump on Twitter sometimes to the fact that President Obama, you know, went on shows like "Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis," which is a night show. When Obama did that...
INKSEEP: Presidents always do this kind of stuff.
DETROW: Right, but Obama would do that to get in front of an audience to push a policy goal, like getting people to sign up for Obamacare. Here, the end seems to be just criticizing the media.
INKSEEP: Or, as you said, defending the fact that he's on social media at all. We don't know who's gotten under his skin lately and said that he shouldn't be on Twitter. Although, surveys have shown that many Republicans, as well as independents and Democrats, don't like his use of social media. But he has been hitting the media all week and not just on Twitter. Saturday night, he was speaking with veterans and said this among other things.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House. But I'm president, and they're not.
INKSEEP: OK, I get that, Scott. But here's my question. Is there a missed opportunity here - because he has, among other things, a health care bill that's deeply unpopular, that I guess somebody would need to sell? And here's a chance to sell it, and he talks about this instead.
DETROW: That's right. But I think that that line, I'm president, is really key here because President Trump did things like this. He attacked. He started feuds. He did way outside-the-box things on Twitter all through 2016. He won the election, and he repeatedly says that that is a validation for all those strategy. He thinks they work for him. They energize his base.
But you are seeing growing frustration from congressional Republicans on things like this, on things like the attack on Mika Brzezinski from MSNBC. They're having a really hard time passing a major piece of their platform, and they could use some help from the president in selling that plan.
INKSEEP: Well, we were wondering what voters thought, and so we have an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asking what voters think about civility in our country since the election. What do we find here?
DETROW: This might surprise you. But there is widespread agreement from all parties that civility has gone down.
INKSEEP: (Laughter) I'm shocked, shocked.
MARTIN: Breaking news.
DETROW: Seven in 10 respondents. What's interesting is that that is across parties. Six in 10 Republicans agree, 8 in 10 Democrats.
MARTIN: You know, though, Scott, I do think it's interesting you say there is no strategy aligned with these tweets from Donald Trump, but undermining the media is his strategy. Then he gets to decide or he gets to promulgate his idea of what is truth. And that's where things get complicated and perhaps dangerous.
INKSEEP: OK, that's NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks very much. Good to talk with you once again.
DETROW: Thank you.
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INKSEEP: Some other news - Pope Francis pushed out one of the most powerful cardinals at the Vatican.
MARTIN: Yeah, his name is Gerhard Ludwig Muller. He led the department that's responsible for defending Catholic doctrine. And when his five-year term expired, he was not reappointed. He had this reputation for upholding the church's most conservative viewpoints. And Reuters reports that Muller was, quote, "at odds with the pontiff's vision of a more inclusive church."
INKSEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has covered the Catholic church for years. She's in Rome. Hi, Sylvia.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INKSEEP: So the Vatican just says his five-year term expired. It's time for him to go. But what's really going on here?
POGGIOLI: Well, never a dull moment here. Actually, the Vatican really didn't give any explanation up to now. The head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - that's the office Muller was heading - he would stay in office until retirement age, which at the Vatican is 75. But Muller is 69, and no other job was announced for him. We know that in recent months he, you know, he publicly questioned Pope Francis' opening to Catholics who divorce and remarry in civil ceremonies without getting church annulments.
But, you know, what's interesting is that under Francis, this doctrinal office seems sort of sidelined. There was a time when in the - the Catholic world shook when the doctrinal office issued a judgment. Under Francis, it appears he's relying more on his close advisers to analyze the doctrinal implications of his decisions.
INKSEEP: Although, should we take from this that it is important who's around the pope? He may be the guy who was supposedly infallible on certain issues. But the people who surround him - in effect, his Cabinet - can have a great influence.
POGGIOLI: Absolutely. And - but, you know, as I said, he's relying more on his close advisers and this commission that he's appointed, of nine cardinals from around the world who meet four or five times a year. There seems to be a little less emphasis on the - some of the stalwart offices in the Vatican.
INKSEEP: The formal offices. He's got a kind of kitchen cabinet, as we would say...
INKSEEP: ...In the United States. We have some response to this from Marie Collins. She is an abuse survivor. We're talking, of course, about the abuse scandal in the Catholic church. She used to sit on the pope's Commission for the Protection of Minors. And she was critical of Muller's work with that commission. Now, yesterday she told NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday that she supported the pope's decision. Let's listen.
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MARIE COLLINS: Cardinal Muller's dicastery was the one that was resisting change. So that may be a sign that he's not going to take resistance anymore and will push harder. It's just that things seem to move so slowly in the church. And every day, children are at risk.
INKSEEP: What changes could this portend, Sylvia Poggioli?
POGGIOLI: Well, you know, the sudden departure of Cardinal Muller - you know, I think it's important to say that, in a sense, this and the departure of Cardinal Pell for - to face sex abuse...
INKSEEP: Oh, yeah.
POGGIOLI: ...Accusations in Australia, it shows that the worldwide clerical sex abuse scandal has come to roost back into the Vatican. And it could threaten the pope's legacy. In May, he said that Marie Collins' criticism of the slow pace in processing the abuse cases by the congregation was justified, and he announced he was adding more staff to handle the overload. He probably senses that he needs a change of course in tackling the sex abuse crisis that has so damaged the Catholic church.
INKSEEP: And thanks for the reminder there are actually two top officials who have stepped aside in different ways in recent days. Sylvia Poggioli, thanks very much.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve.
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INKSEEP: OK, a deadline has been moved back in a conflict between U.S. allies.
MARTIN: Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations have been pressuring their neighbor Qatar. They're accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism. And these countries presented a list of demands. They said Qatar had to end support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which they allege. And they want Qatar to shut down the satellite TV channel Al Jazeera.
Qatar's ambassador to the U.S. tells NPR that the list of demands was designed to be impossible to meet. They say they're not going to adhere to those demands. The U.S. says it's trying to calm this dispute.
INKSEEP: Here in the studios with us is Ishaan Tharoor, foreign affairs correspondent for The Washington Post, becoming a regular guest here. Good morning.
ISHAAN THAROOR: Good morning.
INKSEEP: So were these demands designed to be impossible to meet, so far as you can tell?
THAROOR: I think so, on a certain level. I mean, some of these demands are incredibly far-reaching. And the Qataris claim that they are designed to fundamentally strip them of sovereignty, to reduce them to a kind of vassal state of Riyadh, of Saudi Arabia.
THAROOR: But at the same time, there are real issues and grievances in the region. There are certain - some differences that the countries have over Qatar's rather rogue, maverick foreign policy in the region. And the Saudis and Emirates see this moment as a chance to bring the Qataris to heel.
INKSEEP: Do you feel you have a good sense of how Qatar has supported, if at all, the Muslim Brotherhood? Their ambassador to the United States says, well, we've supported the Muslim Brotherhood when they were in power somewhere, when they were in a government. We've been supporting governments, like Egypt, which briefly was run by a Muslim Brotherhood president. Are they doing more than that or worse than that?
THAROOR: It's complicated. But there are - the issue here is that the Qataris have not toed the same line as Saudi Arabia - as the Saudis and the Emirates. They have been welcoming of political Islam in various incarnations in other parts of the region. And the real issue is that the Saudis and Emirates see the Qataris themselves as a kind of irritant, if not an existential threat, to their own governments.
They are - they have these networks that reach across the Arab world, that push a kind of pro-change, if not necessarily pro-democratic agenda elsewhere. And they threaten, in some senses, the kind of regimes that the UAE and Saudi Arabia have.
INKSEEP: Saudi Arabia, huge U.S. ally - Qatar, home of a huge U.S. important military base. What is the United States doing to resolve this, if anything?
THAROOR: It's an awkward situation. As you said, all the major parties involved are clear U.S. allies. And Secretary Tillerson, Secretary of State Tillerson has tried very hard behind the scenes to broker some kind of compromise. His work has been undercut by the president himself on a certain level, who has, in the early stages of the dispute...
INKSEEP: Taken credit for the dispute.
THAROOR: Took credit, took credit for Qatar's isolation. Complicating this is the fact that it's very hard to isolate Qatar and that, in a certain level, the Saudis and Emirates who are leading this effort may have possibly bitten off more than they can chew.
INKSEEP: OK, and a deadline was today for Qatar to meet those demands. They've now been given a couple of extra days. And we'll continue following this. Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post, thanks for coming by.
THAROOR: Thank you.
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