NEW YORK (AP) — Even before President Donald Trump, bathed in bright sunlight, emerged from a White House office to take his place at a podium backed by stern-faced military leaders, Wednesday had become a memorable day for an administration keenly aware of how it appears in the media.
“The entire world is watching this podium,” said MSNBC’s Craig Melvin, as news network cameras trained on the empty platform for roughly half an hour.
“The utter and complete silence in the room,” observed CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “This shows the weight of the moment.”
It was a television cliffhanger: how would the president, who had tweeted tough talk throughout the past weekend, respond to Iran’s missile attack on U.S. forces stationed in Iraq? Ultimately, after the missiles caused no casualties, Trump decided not to retaliate militarily and the nation could exhale from a crisis that began with a U.S. drone strike that killed an Iranian general.
Besides the news networks, big broadcasters ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox interrupted regular programming to carry his address live.
The news about the lack of American deaths or injuries, whether by luck or design, led to a change in tone among some of the television advisers that Trump often plays close attention to.
Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity talked tough Tuesday night in the immediate aftermath of the missile attacks.
“There is a massive price to pay,” Hannity said. “You don’t get to do what they did tonight. They have now been begging — the president wanted to talk and wants peace and they’re going to get hit hard. Their hostility will now be met with the full force of the greatest, most advanced, most sophisticated military the world has ever seen.”
In a Sunday tweet, Trump said “the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner” if attacked by Iran.
Suggesting bombs might be on the way, Hannity said that anyone who worked at an Iranian oil refinery “might want to get a new job.”
Fox’s Geraldo Rivera tweeted to his followers early in the evening that he would be appearing on Hannity’s show “counseling restraint.”
An hour later, Rivera wrote, “Never mind Hannity just canceled me.”
Yet after a night’s sleep, things were calmer on the “Fox & Friends” morning show. Trump was a winner. The Iranian response was weak. Americans should “be proud that he has taken out a monster,” said Fox analyst Mike Huckabee, father of Trump’s former White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders.
“I don’t think (the Iranian retaliation) warrants a response,” said another Fox analyst, Brett Velicovich.
Fox news anchor Bill Hemmer said after Trump’s speech that the Iranians “now know that this is a president who means business.”
Attention also turned to a more familiar opponent — the media. Fox news anchor Bret Baier, shortly after Trump spoke, said there’s a sense that the president doesn’t get credit when something good happens.
“You wonder whether Trump derangement syndrome doesn’t figure in with some of the responses that you hear in Washington,” Baier said.
Trump spoke to the nation less than 18 hours after White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted a denial to a CNN report that preparations were being made for such an address.
“In a race to be first to break news, the public once again falls victim to irresponsible ‘reporting’ by @CNN,” Grisham wrote.
CNN responded via Twitter that the most shocking thing about Grisham’s statement was that it showed how she was out of the loop. CNN said its report was confirmed with multiple White House officials, and noted that other news organizations also reported it.
The network had no further comment Wednesday when the report was proven true.