Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
February 21, 2018

Understanding Trump’s School Shooting Listening Session, and the Cheat Sheet

President Donald Trump holds notes during a listening session with high school students and teachers in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Trump heard the stories of students and parents affected by school shootings, following last week's deadly shooting in Florida. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

After listening to parents, teachers and administrators bear their pain for more than an hour on Wednesday afternoon, why is Trump getting excoriated for the photograph above? (Here is a still better view.)

There were many high points of the hour. There was the raw outburst by Andrew Pollack over the loss of his daughter, Meadow:

Andrew Pollack (C), whose daughter Meadow Pollack was shot to death last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is joined by his sons as he addresses a listening session with U.S. President Donald Trump in the State Dining Room at the White House February 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump hosted the session about school safety in the wake of last week's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and teachers dead. (Feb. 20, 2018 - Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America)

There were the tears (and bold words about gun control) by Samuel Zeif, a Douglas High survivor of the shooting who lost his close friend:

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Samuel Zeif (L) weeps after talking about how his best friend was killed during last week's mass shooting while he participates in a listening session hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump in the State Dining Room at the White House February 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump is hosting the session in the wake of last week's mass shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and teachers dead. (Feb. 20, 2018 - Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

So why denigrate those moments with the trifling scene of Trump’s cheat sheet?

As you can read just about anywhere on social media, it’s because the note conveys kindergarten level questions that any normal thinking and feeling person would be fully mindful of meeting with survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, as well as massacres past. But we’re not dealing with any normal thinking or feeling person. We’re talking about Donald Trump. Given how elemental these questions are, it’s hard to parse how much we’re dealing with a head problem, a heart problem, or both.

Still, it’s all too easy to focus on Trump’s severe personal limitations and miss the larger point, which is the scripting itself.

As Trump has said, the optics are everything. So, while the liberals, the media and a whole swath of social media is writing him off for his dumbed down note card, FOX, the White House, and all those legislators that the students have it in for are playing up the sensitivity, the compassion and the open-mindedness of the event itself. And it’s that agenda that I was mindful of in watching the whole hour.

President Donald Trump holds notes during a listening session with high school students and teachers in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Screenshot via White House video.

When you watch the video like Trump studies video, that’s when you notice things, like the fact the press cameras kept clicking away through an opening prayer. (Which made me wonder, just like Trump’s session with legislators a few weeks in deference to the Dreamers–why was this televised in the first place?)

President Donald Trump holds notes during a listening session with high school students and teachers in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Screenshot via White House video.

Or, there was the awkwardness of the Secretary of Education impelled to read a statement off a piece of paper when the moment called for spontaneity. …You can see how it drew the attention of the woman next to her. Not to mention the cameras again.

President Donald Trump holds notes during a listening session with high school students and teachers in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Screenshot via White House video.

Or there were all the moments where the president, unable to maintain his attention, kept nodding like crazy or just stared into space. Or, in the most telling of gestures, you can see him spying out the camera, ignoring the father of a survivor who, in some detail, is answering one of the questions on the card.

Yes, the cheat sheet is telling. But we already know how emotionally and intellectually challenged Trump is. What’s most significant about the note is how Trump is all about the script–which in this case, called for the listening pose. And, as much as anybody is tempted to grant him some earnestness at this extraordinary moment, he can’t help telegraphing how–God’s blessings to Zeif and Pollack–it’s such a memorable show.

(photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP. Caption: President Donald Trump holds notes during a listening session with high school students and teachers in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Trump heard the stories of students and parents affected by school shootings, following last week’s deadly shooting in Florida.photos 2 & 3: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Comments Powered by Disqus

Refresh Archives

Random Notes