Considering that the president watches a reported eight hours of television on a good day, it shouldn’t be surprising that he learns a great deal from his screen time. There’s the noted Fox & Friends feedback loop, in which the morning show discusses a statistic on crime or immigration, and, uncannily, Trump posts about the same detail, usually within the hour. Among White House officials, there’s also the tested strategy of appearing on television to get the president’s ear, a method reportedly preferred to an Oval Office chat. But, two years into the job, Trump is still learning about his own decisions and policy through TV.
On Thursday, CNN reported that Trump “was startled Tuesday as he watched television coverage” of his attorney general nominee William Barr, as he described his close, first-name basis with special prosecutor Robert Mueller. “I told him how well I knew Bob Mueller and that the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this was all over,” Barr said on his first day of testimony. “Bob is a straight-shooter and should be dealt with as such.” According to three sources who spoke with CNN, that friendship surprised the president, who complained to his aides that he didn’t realize how close they were, despite Barr’s testimony that he told Trump about his Mueller connection.
The president has a notable history of learning about what he did on TV after the fact. In a damning report on his reading comprehension, Trump realized how critical Defense Secretary James Mattis’s resignation letter was only after it was discussed on TV. (Mattis, for what it’s worth, has supposedly said Trump has the understanding of “a fifth or sixth grader.”) And in 2017, Trump allegedly learned through watching TV that his plan to cut taxes on the middle class would have exactly the opposite effect.
Regardless of his friendship with Mueller or his allegiance to the president, Barr states that he would allow the special counsel to remain independent, and would not be “bullied” into bias toward either camp. Of course, he’s also written an unsolicited 20-page memo arguing against an obstruction of justice charge for the president, so we probably know where he stands.