And a bleeping moron, no less. Allegedly. After his brief press statement today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked point-blank whether he's used the M-word to describe the president in a private moment of frustration. The title of the video below notwithstanding, his response was a non-denial, deflecting the question by refusing to entertain "petty nonsense." That's a punt akin to, "I won't even dignify that with a response." Subtext: Yeah, he probably said it. Skip ahead to the six minute mark or so, and tell me I'm wrong:
"This is what I don't understand about Washington. I'm not from this place, but the places I come from, we don't deal with that petty nonsense. It is intended to do nothing but divide people. And I'm just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration."
The State Department is denying it, but Tillerson's response tells the tale, I think. Here's the thing: Who cares? The supposed insult came in response to Trump's ridiculous speech at the Boy Scouts annual jamboree, which was so inappropriate in content and tone that the organization felt compelled to release a statement apologizing for the spectacle. Tillerson has deep ties to the scouts, including having served as national president of the Boy Scouts of America. He is an Eagle Scout himself. What seems to have happened here is that a man who cares about the scouts on a very personal level became exasperated by the president's gratuitous politicization of their meeting, and angrily lashed out.
Tillerson adamantly denies that he talked about resigning his post, and shot down NBC's report that Vice President Mike Pence had to intervene with a "pep talk" to dissuade him from quitting. False, and false, he says, scolding the press for stirring up fake rumors of palace intrigue, designed to divide and distract the administration. It's understandable that Tillerson would want to push back against unfounded whispers that he'd come close to walking away from his job (quote: "I have never considered leaving this post"), but he could have done that through a spokesperson or in a written statement. Why breathe oxygen into a gossipy item about a bygone flare-up by making an on-camera statement? I shared my suspicion on that front this afternoon on Outnumbered:
The fastest way to get sideways with Donald Trump is for the press to report that you've insulted or criticized him. Tillerson didn't merely want to shoot down certain elements of the NBC story; he wanted the president to see him -- on television -- adamantly denying a media narrative and criticizing the press. The 'tell' was the over-the-top ego stroking: "He loves his country," Tillerson said of the president. "He puts Americans and America first. He's smart. He demands result wherever he goes, and he holds those around him accountable for whether they've done the job he's asked them to do." He really loves his super amazing boss, got it? Trump jumped into the controversy on Twitter, slamming the allegations as "fake news:"
NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN. They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2017
Another reason Tillerson and Trump may have decided to confront this story more aggressively is that the media has been fixating on the president supposedly "undermining" his top diplomat over North Korea negotiations. In my view, that little Twitter tempest was little more than a ham-fisted 'good cop/bad cop' routine with Pyongyang. We already know that the Kim regime is totally befuddled by Trump, reaching out to Republican contacts for some Trumpsplaining. Say what you will about him, the president has kept the North Koreans guessing and off-balance, staring them down on their Guam threat, moving new sanctions out of the United Nations, and persuading the Chinese to adopt a harder line with their quasi-client state. When Trump really wants to embarrass or undermine someone, including a cabinet secretary, it isn't subtle. So the whole NoKo exchange seemed to me like a minor blip, despite the historically-hostile media's intense coverage of it.