Trump’s London Times transcript: What he said vs. what they reported

London Times transcript
London Times interview at Trump Tower

In an attempt to sound like he knows something about foreign policy, Donald Trump sat for an interview with Michael Gove, of the Times of London, and Kai Diekmann, former editor of Germany’s Bild newspaper, on Jan. 15, 2017.

Spoiler alert: He failed.

You can read the full transcript here, and I urge you to do so, because the Times’ own cleaned-up summary of the interview does not reflect his terrifying incoherence or his pathetic, superficial way of discussing international issues.

In its news report, The Times highlighted several areas of foreign policy touched upon [not deeply explored] during the interview [the ones of most interest to British and European readers]. Here are some excerpts that show how the Times condensed and scrubbed Trump’s answers in the lead paragraphs of their news report. Trying to find where the Times got the information for these keyword summaries of Trump’s positions is not easy: Clearly, the Times had to comb back through the transcript several times to cut and paste these points together. And that’s not easy, when the answers are as rambling and as shallow as Trump’s.

And yes, I know that cleaning up politicians’ quotes has been standard journalistic practice forever. But, in the case of Trump, it’s not just about removing a few ers and ums to help the speaker sound more articulate. Gleaning “ideas” from Trump’s “sentences” and “paragraphs” is like sifting through a toxic waste dump, trying to find an unused tissue. I think that it’s dishonest of the Times to make a person as incompetent and superficially informed as Trump sound like a normal politician who has thought things out. Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t notice that the Times included any characterization of Trump’s answers as “rambling.” Using the term “wide-ranging” as a euphemism for unfocused is not enough.

What the Times of London wrote:

[Trump] will agree a nuclear weapons reduction deal with President Putin of Russia in return for lifting US sanctions.

What Trump actually said:

Q: Do you support European sanctions against Russia?

A: Well, I think you know — people have to get together and people have to do what they have to do in terms of being fair. OK? They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But you do have sanctions and Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.

What the Times wrote:

He was highly critical of Russia’s intervention in Syria, however, describing it as “a very bad thing” that had led to a “terrible humanitarian situation”.

What Trump actually said:

Q: Do you think that what’s happened in Syria now with Putin intervening is a good thing or a bad thing?

A: Nah, I think it’s a very rough thing. It’s a very bad thing, we had a chance to do something when we had the line in the sand and it wasn’t — nothing happened. That was the only time — and now, it’s sort of very late. It’s too late. Now everything is over — at some point it will come to an end — but Aleppo was nasty. I mean when you see them shooting old ladies walking out of town — they can’t even walk and they’re shooting ’em — it almost looks like they’re shooting ’em for sport — ah no, that’s a terrible — that’s been a terrible situation. Aleppo has been such a terrible humanitarian situation.


What the Times wrote:

Orders will be signed next Monday to strengthen America’s borders, which could include travel restrictions on Europeans coming to the US as well as “extreme vetting” for those entering America from parts of the world known for Islamist terrorism.

What Trump actually said:

People don’t want to have other people coming in and destroying their country and you know in this country we’re gonna go very strong borders from the day I get in. One of the first orders I’m gonna sign – day one – which I will consider to be Monday as opposed to Friday or Saturday. Right? I mean my day one is gonna be Monday because I don’t want to be signing and get it mixed up with lots of celebration, but one of the first orders we’re gonna be signing is gonna be strong borders.

We don’t want people coming in from Syria who we don’t know who they are. You know there’s no way of vetting these people. I don’t want to do what Germany did.

[In another section of the transcript]  Q: You said during the campaign that you’d like to stop Muslims coming to the US. Is that still your plan?

A: Well, from various parts of the world that have lots of terrorism problems.

There will be extreme vetting, it’s not gonna be like it is now, they don’t even, we don’t even have real vetting. The vetting into this country is essentially non-existent as it is, as it was at least, with your country.

[From another section of the transcript] Q: Are there any travel restrictions that could be imposed on Europeans coming to the US?

Well, it could happen, I mean we’re gonna have to see. I mean, we’re looking at parts of Europe; parts of the world and parts of Europe, where we have problems where they come in and they’re gonna be causing problems. I don’t wanna have those problems. Look, I won the election because of strong borders and trade. And military, we’re gonna have strong military.

What the Times wrote:

He believes that Angela Merkel made a “catastrophic mistake” when she let more than a million migrants into Germany, adding that the EU had become “a vehicle for Germany”

What Trump actually said:

Q: When Obama came for his last visit to Berlin, he said that if he could vote in the upcoming election he would vote for Angela Merkel. Would you?

A: Well, I don’t know who she’s running against, number one, I’m just saying, I don’t know her, I’ve never met her. As I said, I’ve had great respect for her. I felt she was a great, great leader. I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from. You’ll find out, you got a big dose of it a week ago. So I think she made a catastrophic mistake, very bad mistake. Now, with that being said, I respect her, I like her, but I don’t know her. So I can’t talk about who I’m gonna be backing — if anyone.

[From another section of the transcript] Q: In your campaign you said Angela Merkel’s policy on Syrian refugees was insane. Do you still think so?

A: I think it’s not good. I think it was a big mistake for Germany. And Germany of all countries, ’cause Germany was one of the toughest in the world for having anybody go in, and, uh, no I think it was a mistake. And I’ll see her and I’ll meet her and I respect her. And I like her but I think it was a mistake. And people make mistakes but I think it was a very big mistake. I think we should have built safe zones in Syria. Would have been a lot less expensive. Uh, get the Gulf states to pay for ’em who aren’t coming through, I mean they’ve got money that nobody has.

Would have been a lot less expensive than the trauma that Germany’s going through now — but I would have said — you build safe zones in Syria. Look, this whole thing should have never happened. Iraq should not have been attacked in the first place, all right? It was one of the worst decisions, possibly the worst decision ever made in the history of our country. We’ve unleashed — it’s like throwing rocks into a beehive. It’s one of the great messes of all time. I looked at something, uh, I’m not allowed to show you because it’s classified – but, I just looked at Afghanistan and you look at the Taliban – and you take a look at every, every year its more, more, more, you know they have the different colours – and you say, you know – what’s going on?

To its credit, the Times did include some of Trump’s more egregious statements. But the Times still made Trump seem far too close to normal by reporting his statements as if they were those of a person who had actually considered the issues.

But how does any of this pass for foreign policy thinking? Of course, the main problem is that Trump has never thought about any of this—unless it had a tangential effect on his businesses’ bottom lines. You can tell that he’s been briefed recently—but not a lot of it appears to be sinking in, and what has sunk in reflects—as we have learned—what the last person he talked with said. He throws around the facts that he can remember and blusters and bullshits his way through the rest of it. His inarticulateness is, once again, on full display.

But another part of the problem is that, as you can see in the full transcript, the interviewers served up a lot of very soft questions. [“Is there anything else you take from having a Scottish mother? Is there anything typically German about you?”] And when they did ask serious questions, they did not follow up when Trump gave an incoherent or off-the-subject answer.

Isn’t anyone in the press going to stand up to Trump, call him out to his face on lies and inaccuracies, and remind him to actually answer the question? Is this let-him-ramble-unchecked interview model the way things are going to be? Both this interview and his previous sit-down with the New York Times reflect a willingness by the press to be bullied in advance as a way of avoiding getting on Trump’s shit list. Put it all together—the press’s obsequious and cowering attitude, the increasing normalization by the press of Trump’s abnormality, the incoming administration’s threats against the press, plus Trump’s obvious incompetence: Where are we going?