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'The Atlantic' Editor Discusses Reporting On Trump's Remarks About The Military


Today the White House pushed back against a story in The Atlantic that alleges President Trump privately insulted troops and disparaged veterans. In a press conference this afternoon, the president called the story a hoax.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is a disgrace that somebody is allowed to write things like that. It could have been - you know, a lot of times, the sources aren't sources. They don't exist. And sometimes, the sources are just people that are disgruntled former so-called employees.

CORNISH: President Trump went on to say that no one called him for comment. The Atlantic says calls to the White House were not returned before publication.

Jeffrey Goldberg did the reporting for The Atlantic. Earlier, he told me a story he'd heard from multiple unnamed sources about a visit that President Trump made to Arlington National Cemetery with former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: This is Memorial Day 2017; John Kelly, at the time, secretary of Homeland Security. His son was killed in Afghanistan, a 29-year-old Marine officer, young Marine officer, buried in Arlington. Donald Trump comes to the graveside and says to John Kelly - by the gravesite of his son - I don't get it. What was in it for them? Them being all of the people buried in that section, including presumably his son. And so it struck me that the core here and what's, I think, disturbing is that he views dying in war as proof that you are a kind of a sucker. Remember what he said about John McCain; that, you know, he likes guys who aren't captured. There's nothing heroic about being captured. And so this is merely an extension of that view, that people who died in war don't deserve necessarily the veneration that we give them.

CORNISH: John Kelly declined to comment for this story, but there are many other sources in the story unnamed.


CORNISH: And President Trump has been disparaging about that. And the White House, as we said, claims this story in totality is essentially false...

GOLDBERG: Right, right.

CORNISH: ...This one and much of your reporting. What's your response to that?

GOLDBERG: My response to that is I wouldn't publish anything that I didn't feel was sourced to the highest degree possible. I have total confidence in these sources. And I think in the fullness of time, they will talk about these issues.

CORNISH: Why don't they go on the record? I mean, if you call this many people, they're bound to give you a reason. And I thought maybe you might, over time, come to get a picture of why people don't speak out even on things they feel strongly about.

GOLDBERG: I think, in short, it is fear of being attacked publicly and viciously by the president, by his supporters, by the media echo chamber around the president. It's not pleasant. And it's understandable why people would like to avoid that. And I'm curious to know over the next couple of months how many people will step out from behind the shadows, behind anonymity.

CORNISH: How does this play out in terms of policy? - because the White House response to your piece says, look; there have been pay raises for troops, that there's been increased military spending. Help us square that.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I don't know if I can help you square that because on - by some markers, he is obviously very engaged in funding a larger military and talking about a very - a large military. What I would say is that he makes decisions - like any politician in certain circumstances - he makes decisions that he thinks helps his political career. And he believes that strong funding of the U.S. military is helping him. We have seen some data recently, some polls that show that his support is actually going down in certain quarters of the military. But that remains to be seen. Obviously, we won't understand that for a couple of months.

CORNISH: You tie this to the president's treatment of the late Sen. John McCain. And by your own writing here, you say that this really didn't have much of an effect. It didn't do damage to Trump's candidacy. Do you think that the reason why he doesn't endure a lot of blowback from it has to do with the dwindling percentage of Americans whose lives are affected by war - right? - who have family members and community members who serve.

GOLDBERG: I don't know. But I think the worry in the White House is if Donald Trump develops a reputation as being callous about the lives of American service people, that that could do him political damage. I think even for those people who have no family members in the armed services and the military, they have an innate understanding that these are people worthy of respect and even veneration.

CORNISH: Jeffrey Goldberg, thank you so much for sharing your reporting with us.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

CORNISH: And Jeffrey Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Atlantic. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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