Right-wing media have been quick to praise President Donald Trump for his response to Hurricane Harvey and the aftermath, lauding his tweets as well as pictures released of him in meetings, claiming that “symbolism matters as well as the execution,” and attacking critics who have pointed out that Trump has done several highly political things during the hurricane that was downgraded to a tropical storm. The current tone of the conservative media sphere is a radical departure from the tone during disasters under former President Barack Obama’s tenure, when they claimed he was just doing “photo-ops,” said he was ineffective, and lambasted him for not visiting disaster areas immediately despite local officials asking him not to come so that resources could be spent helping victims.
Trump visited Texas during Harvey response and recovery, where he touted the crowd size during his comments
Trump traveled to Texas “to survey some of the damage” from Harvey. President Donald Trump visited Texas on August 29 as Tropical Storm Harvey continued to devastate Texas. According to The New York Times, Trump “traveled to storm-brushed Corpus Christi, Tex., on Tuesday to survey some of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Harvey and demonstrate his personal commitment to a region still in the grips of a historic natural disaster.” [The New York Times, 8/29/17]
During his visit, Trump “managed to turn attention on himself” and touted his crowd size. The Washington Post reported on August 29 that, during his visit, “Trump managed to turn attention on himself” and was “more focused on the power of the storm and his administration’s response than on the millions of Texans whose lives have been dramatically altered by the floodwaters.” And, according to the San Antonio Current, during the president’s visit to Corpus Christi, Trump highlighted the size of the crowd who came to see him, exclaiming, “What a crowd. What a turnout” and “failed to mention or acknowledge the 15 casualties, tens of thousands of displaced people, or irreversible damage as a result of the hurricane.” From the San Antonio Current’s August 29 article:
After the briefing, Trump spoke to a crowd of a hundred or so people waiting to see him. It is unclear if the audience of supporters showed up spontaneously, or if they had been organized prior to Trump's speech.
“What a crowd, what a turnout!” Trump said.
He failed to mention or acknowledge the 15 casualties, tens of thousands of displaced people, or irreversible damage as a result of the hurricane. Instead, his lax messaging alternated between commending state officials for their handling of the situation, and reassuring Texans things would be OK soon (contradicting what state and local officials have said thus far about a long road to recovery). [San Antonio Current, 8/29/17; The Washington Post, 8/29/17]
In the first days of Harvey, Trump and the White House tweeted and put out photos of a teleconference to show their engagement
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2017
Closely monitoring #HurricaneHarvey from Camp David. We are leaving nothing to chance. City, State and Federal Govs. working great together!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2017
Going to a Cabinet Meeting (tele-conference) at 11:00 A.M. on #Harvey. Even experts have said they've never seen one like this!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
White House released photos of Trump’s teleconference with cabinet members on Hurricane Harvey. The White House Office of the Press Secretary posted photos from Trump’s teleconference with his cabinet members about Hurricane Harvey on August 27. [WhiteHouse.gov, 8/27/17]
How right-wing media have reacted to Trump’s handling of Harvey
Right-wing media have reacted positively to Trump’s handling of the situation arising from Hurricane Harvey, lauding his tweets and pictures of him in meetings and defending some of the overtly political actions and statements he’s made while the hurricane and tropical storm hammered Texas. Fox News’ John Roberts said that Trump has “made a point of showing how engaged he was on Harvey” by “tweeting frequently about the storm” and by “releasing a photo of … a teleconference from Camp David,” Fox’s Sandra Smith said that pictures released by Trump and the White House show that he’s “keeping a hands-on approach,” and The Gateway Pundit claimed that the tweets “show[ed] true leadership.” Fox’s Brian Kilmeade added that “see[ing] the presence of the president” was important because “symbolism matters, as well as the execution.”
Pro-Trump media even defended Trump’s political statements and actions in the midst of the hurricane, including his promotion of the book of one political ally, his announcement that he was pardoning a different political ally (Joe Arpiao, the disgraced former Arizona sheriff who was convicted of defying a court order to stop racial profiling Latinos), and his tweet that he “won [Missouri] by a lot in ‘16.” Fox host Harris Faulkner mentioned, that “Harvey is not all [Trump] has been tweeting about,” and that “the president can tweet about whatever he wants.” Fellow Fox host Shannon Bream reacted to criticism of some of Trump’s tweets, asking, “Is this president going to get a break?” And Sean Hannity lashed out over criticism of the Arpaio pardon, claiming that the media “will never give the president a fair shot” and they “politicized immediately the president's decision when we were just two hours away from a hurricane.”
Following Trump’s visit to Corpus Christi, the praise continued. Fox host Jesse Watters lauded the president’s trip, saying he “gave a real shot of adrenaline to the crowd.” Watters continued, saying, “It wasn’t necessarily a visit where it’s ‘I feel your pain, I’m going to give you a shoulder to cry on.’ It was more cheerleading, let’s do this, let’s do this together, rah rah recovery.” Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee lashed out at the criticism of Trump’s speech in Corpus Christi, stating, “If Donald Trump got a drinking straw and personally sucked every drop of water out of the flood zones of Houston, the Democrats would say that he didn’t put the water back in the right place,” adding, “there’s nothing he’s ever going to do that’s going to satisfy these critics who hate him, who want him out of office.”
How right-wing media talked about Obama’s handling of natural disasters
Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft attacked White House for releasing photo of Obama speaking by phone from Ireland with Missouri governor after a tornado hit the state. In a May 23, 2011, post on his Gateway Pundit blog, Jim Hoft criticized the White House for releasing a photo of then-President Barack Obama speaking by phone with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon about a tornado that devastated Joplin while Obama was in Ireland. Hoft wrote: “The White House wanted to make sure you knew that Obama was on top of the disaster in Missouri. Michelle and Barack are going to a concert tonight in Dublin. They sure wouldn't want to show you what was really going on in Ireland.” [Gateway Pundit via Breitbart.com, 5/23/11]
Linking tornadoes to Hurricane Katrina, Steve Doocy and Laura Ingraham complain about lack of criticism of Obama's Ireland trip after tornadoes. On the May 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham stated that while she didn't “want to make too much of this,” she wondered “what would the liberal press be saying if this were President Bush” and there was “another flood in New Orleans, you had people suffering, you had people dead, and yet President Bush was going over to Scotland or Ireland?” Co-host Steve Doocy responded by saying, “Are you talking about that crazy double standard thing in this country?” From Fox & Friends:
LAURA INGRAHAM: Look, I don't want to make too much of this, because, look, presidents have to do a lot of things, right? They have to juggle a lot of balls. And the G-8 part of this trip was very important. I also, though, like to think of what would the liberal press be saying if this were President Bush -- we had, let's say, another flood in New Orleans, you had people suffering, you had people dead, and yet President Bush was going over to Scotland or Ireland?
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Are you talking about that crazy double standard thing in this country?
INGRAHAM: Yeah, well, I think of that. And I do think of the disconnect and maybe the tone-deafness, if you will, of that devastation from Missouri -- heartbreaking pictures. And then President Obama lifting the glass of Guinness.
DOOCY: Bottoms up.
INGRAHAM: There is something about that that I think hits people in the gut -- and again, I'm not trying to make too much of it, but I think the Irish probably would have understood if the president delayed his trip a day or two. I think that would have been a really nice thing to do. But again, he has to do a lot of things, I understand that. But maybe the Irish part of the trip could have been put off to another day. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/24/11]
If President Bush was drinking pints in Ireland after a natural disaster, do you think the mainstream media would be so silent?
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) May 24, 2011
Powerline: Obama “posed for a photo-op … pretending to have something to do with” Hurricane Irene response. Powerline’s John Hinderaker wrote a blog post on August 27, 2011, mocking Obama for a photo taken of him at a meeting at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):
It remains to be seen whether Irene turns out to be the Comet Kohoutek of hurricanes, but President Obama is taking no chances. He posed for a photo-op today, pretending to have something to do with the potentially-severe weather event.
I'm sure it's a relief to everyone on the East Coast to know that Obama is personally directing hurricane response efforts. Never mind that he isn't competent to organize a Little League baseball team; today's charade obviously is a corollary of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco, in which America's mass media committed group malpractice, somehow managing to blame the inevitable consequences of a severe weather event, magnified by incompetent local authorities in New Orleans, on the Bush administration. Obama is setting the stage to receive praise, rather than blame, no matter what actually happens between now and when Hurricane Irene blows itself out. [Powerline, 8/27/11]
Hoft used reader comments on a story about Obama’s Hurricane Irene visit to declare the appearance a “publicity stunt.” Hoft wrote in 2011 that “President Downgrade cut his vacation short to make an appearance at the Hurricane Command Center for a few pictures yesterday.” He pasted a screenshot of commenters criticizing Obama from a Yahoo! News story and wrote, “Apparently, not everyone was impressed with this obvious publicity stunt.” [The Gateway Pundit, 8/28/11]
Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin attacked Obama for photos of his briefings on Hurricane Irene: “Paparazzi president at work.” In an August 29, 2011, blog post, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin ridiculed photos of Obama receiving briefings on Hurricane Irene and asked, “Candid Camera or Taxpayer-funded Campaign Camera? You decide.” [MichelleMalkin.com, 8/29/11]
Fox’s Ed Henry: Obama was “intent on looking presidential” during Hurricane Sandy “given Sandy’s wrath … closer to the election.” Fox’s then-chief White House correspondent Ed Henry claimed that Obama was concerned with optics when he reported on Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy. Henry linked Obama’s response to the upcoming presidential election, saying, “Given Sandy's wrath even closer to the election, this time [Obama] is intent on looking presidential, stopping at FEMA headquarters Sunday … and convening a high-level conference call in the White House situation room”:
ED HENRY: The last time President Obama faced a crisis, the terror attack in Libya last month, he went ahead with campaign events in Nevada and Colorado. Given Sandy's wrath even closer to the election, this time he is intent on looking presidential, stopping at FEMA headquarters Sunday, then today canceling a series of campaign events and convening a high-level conference call in White House situation room.
BARACK OBAMA: This is going to be a big and powerful storm. And all across the eastern seaboard, I think everybody is taking the appropriate preparations.
HENRY: Except the president tried to get in one last campaign appearance, leaving Washington late Sunday to be in Orlando this morning for the big roll-out of joint appearances with former President Bill Clinton. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 10/29/12]
Hoft: “Look for nonstop reporting on Obama’s selfless heroics in the days ahead.” Hoft used a photo selected by The Drudge Report of Obama posing in front of a Superman statue to complain about media coverage of Obama canceling a campaign rally to fly back to Washington, D.C. to oversee the federal government’s response to Hurricane Sandy. He wrote: “The president flew back to Washington DC this morning to play hurricane hero. Look for nonstop reporting on Obama’s heroics in the days ahead.” [The Gateway Pundit, 10/29/12]
Fox’s Sean Hannity: “The president, he goes for his photo-op, [and] he’s gone. There is no help coming in here at all.” Fox host Sean Hannity attacked Obama, claiming that he only visited affected areas to survey the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy “for his photo-op” and after that “he’s gone. There is no help coming in here at all”:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): There is a likelihood that power is not going to be back on in New York until -- some estimates -- November 11 or beyond. There is no heat. There is no gas. People are dumpster diving for food. It was all over The Drudge Report tonight. The president, he goes for his photo-op, he's gone. There is no help coming in here at all. It’s now, what, four days into this. I mean, I really believe this is now -- this is a disaster out there. [Fox News, Hannity, 11/1/12]
Fox’s Lou Dobbs: Obama’s post-Sandy visit was a “victory lap.” Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs claimed that Obama took a “victory lap” when he visited New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Dobbs added, “The image of the president and [New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie] slapping themselves on one another’s back likely isn’t appreciated by some of those millions who have yet to see any evidence of the public services they’re being deprived of tonight”:
LOU DOBBS (HOST): The victory lap that President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took yesterday may have been far too early, especially with devastated communities in New Jersey and New York struggling to restore power to millions of people. Working hard to begin recovery efforts in what in many cases they lack the help of essential services, dwindling supplies of gasoline, food shortages, polluted drinking water. The image of the president and the governor slapping themselves on one another’s back likely isn’t appreciated by some of those millions who have yet to see any evidence of the public services they’re being deprived of tonight. [Fox Business Network, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 11/1/12]
Rush Limbaugh: After Hurricane Sandy, “You got Obama flying in and flying out and posing for pictures.” Radio host Rush Limbaugh attacked Obama for “flying in and flying out and posing for pictures” and attacked media figures who said Obama looked “presidential.” He claimed that media figures praising the optics were “admitting that Obama is falling down on the job” and concluded by criticizing Obama’s visit to New Jersey, saying the situation would not be fixed “no matter how many trips Obama takes in there, and no matter how many beaches he walks with Christie”:
I’m not trying to be negative here, but I don’t know what Christie can do about this. I mean, all compassion in the world and you got Obama flying in and flying out and posing for pictures, but tempers are only gonna continue to rise because the mess is too big. You can’t get in there and get back to any sense of normalcy at any time soon.
RUSH: You know, he does his job for a couple days, and everybody is all excited, he looks presidential. What did he look like on Tuesday? What did he look like Monday? Do these people not know what they are admitting? It’s like our old buddy Jonah Goldberg at National Review said, “The irony is exquisite, Obama does his job a couple days, everybody else, game-changer.” Game change what? Thought he’s winning. What game does he need to change? These people are admitting that Obama is in trouble. They are admitting that Obama is not looking good. They are admitting that Obama is falling down on the job. They’re admitting all of that when they go get all excited how presidential he looked. That’s his job. What is he supposed to be looking like every day?
Flood waters haven’t been pumped out of homes in Queens and Brooklyn or wherever. It hasn’t happened yesterday. The power is still not on in lower Manhattan and it’s not gonna go back on ’til November 11th. No matter how many trips Obama takes in there, and no matter how many beaches he walks with Christie, it isn’t gonna happen. What’s different? [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/1/12]
Fox’s Steve Doocy after Louisiana flooding: Obama “is on vacation, and there is no word that he's going to leave the island.” Fox co-host Steve Doocy reported after the 2016 Louisiana flooding that Obama “is on vacation, and there is no word that he’s going to leave the island.” Co-host Anna Kooiman said that “the optics do not look good” for Obama, and Kilmeade criticized The New York Times for not publishing “a negative story … about the president deciding not to show up in Louisiana.” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, in fact, had said that he “would just as soon [Obama] wait a week or two” to visit so that resources could be directed toward helping victims instead of providing security for the president. From the August 19, 2016, edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): [Donald Trump] is moving on, as John just mentioned, down to Louisiana. It will be powerful images if we see them, but as John said, it's closed press at this point. He's going to tour the damage with Mike Pence. Thirteen people have died down there. Hillary Clinton says she is monitoring the situation. The president of the United States, however, is on vacation, and there is no word that he's going to leave the island.
ANNA KOOIMAN (CO-HOST): Yeah, he's playing golf with Larry David. The optics do not look good when you see Americans there in Louisiana dealing with the some of the worst flooding they have ever seen in their lives.
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): By the way, little bit different. You can't find a negative story in The New York Times about the president deciding not to show up in Louisiana, which been devastated. In fact, one editorial writes that it could be an opportunity to be a cleansing experience.
DOOCY: Oh, good.
Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt: “The feeling is, does [Obama] really even -- does he care?” Fox’s Anna Kooiman asked Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt to “contrast the image of ... Donald Trump down there visiting with everybody” “to the president of the United States who’s out golfing with Larry David.” Earhardt responded that Obama “refuses to leave Martha’s Vineyard,” possibly because “he’s not up for re-election,” adding, “And so the feeling is ...-- does he care?” From the August 19, 2016, edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
ANNA KOOIMAN (GUEST HOST): And, Ainsley, after Donald Trump gave one of the best speeches of his life, as many are saying last night, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and now going to Louisiana and looking very presidential, contrast the image of -- in our minds -- of Donald Trump down there visiting with everybody who is dealing with some of the worst flooding they have ever seen, record flooding, and compare that to the president of the United States, who’s out golfing with Larry David.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Yeah, the images of the president, who’s playing golf and refuses to leave Martha's Vineyard -- you know, he's not up for re-election. And so the feeling is, does he really even -- does he care? I mean, he's playing golf, and he’s not leaving the island -- this exclusive island, Martha’s Vineyard, and he’s going to be there until Sunday. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/19/16]
Fox’s Jeanine Pirro: Obama “doesn’t feel our pain, he doesn’t make believe he feels our pain.” Fox host Jeanine Pirro claimed that Obama didn’t visit Louisiana because “it would throw off his golf game" and said that Obama not visiting Louisiana is “consistent” with the president having “this kind of distance” from people. Pirro added that Obama “doesn’t feel our pain, he doesn’t make believe he feels our pain.” From the August 19 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Donald Trump now on his way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he and his running mate, Mike Pence, will tour the flood-damaged areas.
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): In the meantime, President Obama’s criticized for staying on vacation, and Hillary Clinton is taking the weekend off.
ANNA KOOIMAN (CO-HOST): Well here to discuss is host of Justice, Judge Jeanine Pirro. Thanks for being with us. And somehow some in the mainstream media are even rushing to the president’s side and saying, “Oh, it would be a distraction if he went down there.”
JEANINE PIRRO: Yeah, it would throw off his golf game. There is a double standard. There’s no question about it. Everybody was saying how horrible it was when President Bush was in an airplane looking down --
DOOCY: Flew over.
PIRRO: Yeah, flew over on Katrina. But, look, this is consistent with President Obama and that is that he’s got this kind of distance. “Let me hold myself separate and apart from the pain that you’re going through.” He doesn’t feel our pain, he doesn’t make believe he feels our pain. Let him go off into the sunset on his golf cart. Meanwhile, Donald Trump and Michael Pence get it. They're going to Louisiana. They're going to make sure that they connect with the people there. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/19/16]