Context is everything. But if you’re a busy person trying to navigate the personal and professional traps of modern life – and aren’t we all? – you don’t always have time to read a lot on every topic. You rely on the media to tell you succinctly what you most need to know. But that might be one of the worst traps into which you can fall in Donald Trump’s Washington.
Take the latest news as an example. “Trump picks his doctor to replace Shulkin as veterans secretary,” the BBC announced. The Washington Post headline was similar: “Trump ousts Veterans Affairs chief Shulkin, nominates personal physician to replace him.” The first sentence in the New York Times report on the latest administration firing-by-Twitter told the same story: “After weeks of uncertainty atop the Department of Veterans Affairs, President Trump on Wednesday said he plans to replace its secretary, David J. Shulkin, with the president’s personal physician, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy.”
It sounds as if President Trump has appointed a loyal lackey — one perhaps completely unqualified for the role — to an important cabinet position. It wouldn’t come as a surprise, given how often we hear that Trump considers loyalty one of the most important of virtues. But that’s not what actually happened today.
Not one of those three stories mentioned that Trump’s pick for VA secretary has worked in four successive administrations. The Navy rear admiral has cared for presidents Republican and Democrat. In fact, it was a Democrat, Barack Obama, who named Jackson physician to the president in 2013. Jackson had served in the White House medical unit since 2006. “Personal physician”? It sounds like the media have bought in to the president’s mistaken idea that federal civil servants are his personal employees.
Reporters should know better, especially as they actually have some familiarity with Trump’s latest cabinet pick. Just over two months ago, Dr. Jackson stood at the podium in the White House briefing room and spent nearly an hour answering reporters’ questions on the president’s health. It was a much-watched press conference because claims had just been made – anonymously and otherwise — about the president’s mental fitness. Jackson gave him a clean bill of health, physically and cognitively. He started off the briefing with a joke aimed at the media — at least I think it was a joke. He noted that White House physicians have to be prepared to treat not just the president but those covering him as well.
“If something should happen to you over the next few months and you should fall ill at some point, most likely I will be the one called to come take care of you,” he told reporters at the briefing. “So when you ask your questions, please keep that in mind.”