It’s OK to Discuss Trump’s Mental Health

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Some in the news media didn’t need President Donald Trump’s amazing news conference on Thursday to ask health professionals whether they thought Trump was mentally sound.


News Conference Only Heightened Questions

The news conference simply reinforced what many were already thinking. David Brooks wrote Friday in the New York Times, “President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued. . . .”

Scott Pelley said on Thursday’s “CBS Evening News,” “Today, we learned the length of the president’s fuse: 28 days.” Trump “went on offense with the familiar tools that built his career: Bluster, bravado, exaggeration and a few loose facts.”

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior adviser to the 2012 Romney for President campaign, wrote Thursday in the Daily News in New York, “Something is deeply wrong with our president and the country is in danger. The danger will only be averted when the Republican leadership in Congress publicly acknowledges what they and the rest of the entire world already know: America’s president is not wearing any clothes.”


The Daily News also published a news story Thursday headlined, “President Trump blasted over social media for ‘sociopathic’ White House press conference.”

Two weeks earlier, News columnist Gersh Kuntzman challenged readers, writing, “The American Psychiatric Association says that anyone exhibiting five of the following nine egotistical traits has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Count up how many Trump exhibits. . . .”


The discussion has been taking place for months in the mental health community. Psychology Today wrote on Jan. 31, “In the several days since psychologist John Gartner posted a petition on Facebook declaring that Donald Trump must be removed from office because he has ‘a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States,’ more than 18,000 psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals have signed their agreement.


“Although the petition has no legal power and it may be the beneficiary of timing more than tactics — it was posted mere hours before Trump issued a highly contentious executive order banning immigrants from some Muslim countries — it has made public what many have been saying privately for some time. And by doing so, it is exposing a large and growing rift within the mental health community. . . .”

Catherine Caruso recalled Wednesday for Scientific American, “On Tuesday 35 U.S. psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers signed a letter to the editor of The New York Times warning about Trump’s mental health.


Its signatories state — despite a self-imposed ethics rule forbidding psychiatrists from offering professional opinions about public figures they have not personally evaluated — they ‘believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.’ A number of petitions, including a petition started by psychologist John Gartner that has garnered more than 20,000 signatures, have called for the chief executive to be removed from office on the grounds he is mentally ill and unfit to perform the duties of president.

“In response to these efforts, Allen Frances, an emeritus psychiatrist at Duke University School of Medicine who helped write the standard manual on psychiatric disorders, wrote a separate letter to the Times denouncing attempts to diagnose the president as mentally ill.


“He explains that Trump lacks the ‘distress and impairment required to diagnose a mental illness,’ adding that bad behavior and mental illness are not synonymous. ‘Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy,’ Frances wrote. Nevertheless, ‘he can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers. . . .”

One of the most comprehensive stories on Trump’s mental state came on Jan. 30 from Sharon Begley, writing for STAT, a new national science, health, and biotech publication produced by Boston Globe Media and edited by Rick Berke, a former editor at the New York Times and Politico.


STAT interviewed 10 psychiatrists and psychologists — some supporters of Trump, some not — about the president’s behavior and what it might say about his personality and mental health,” Begley wrote. “All are respected in their field and close observers of Trump. They based their views on his books, public statements, appearances, and tweets, but emphasized that they have no firsthand knowledge of Trump.

“As a result, they can’t rule out that the president’s actions are part of an intentional political strategy, and not a reflection of particular mental states. After all, his confrontational style and egotism — adorning buildings around the globe with his name — served him well in business and brought him to the White House.


“Still, even at arm’s-length, the analyses were strikingly consistent. Several of the experts, for instance, advanced the view that, as New York University psychologist John Montgomery put it, Trump shows ‘compulsive “more-than” behavior,’ meaning a desperate need to keep from feeling, even fleetingly, that he might not be superior to everyone else. . . .”

Referring to the American Psychiatric Association, Begley also wrote, “The APA’s ‘Goldwater Rule’ prohibits psychiatrists from making public comments on the mental health of anyone they have not treated, but some psychiatrists believe that the rule restricts their right of free speech and argue that it is acceptable to discuss a public figure’s behavior with the appropriate caveats. . . .”


Burke, editor of STAT, said he believes that journalists should also include those caveats.

“This is a very sensitive topic and, indeed journalists need to be very careful in how they approach it,” Burke told Journal-isms by email.


“Our reporter Sharon Begley, is one of the most respected science writers in the business. She and her editors handled it very carefully, even invoking the ‘Goldwater Rule’ in the piece and explaining why our reporting was important and relevant.

“Given the topic, I was bracing for an outpouring over the piece. But instead, I received not one negative email, tweet or phone call — only compliments for taking on the subject in a very responsible way.


“We’d certainly revisit the issue if we feel we have new reporting that would be of value to our readers.”

Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times: Trump’s news conference: Was it more like ‘SNL’ or ‘Dr. Strangelove’?


Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., Psychology Today: Donald Trump and the Vice of Pride

Maggie Fox, NBC News: Donald Trump Isn’t Mentally Ill. He’s Just Unpleasant, Psychiatrist Says


Sam Fulwood III, Center for American Progress: President Trump Has Cheapened the Dignity of His Office

Don Kaplan, Daily News, New York: Trump accusations of ‘fake news’ have no impact on CNN brand, actually help drive network’s historic ratings


Shaun King, Daily News, New York: Donald Trump remains silent as white men continue to terrorize America

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Mr. President: ‘Just who the hell do you think you are?’


Carmen Sesin, NBC News Latino: Latino Groups Praise Pick of Alexander Acosta for Trump Cabinet

Jack Shafer, Politico Magazine: What Happened While Trump Was Tweeting

Joel Simon, Columbia Journalism Review: What does Trump have in common with Hugo Chavez? A media strategy.


Asawin Suebsaeng, Daily Beast: Journalists Whisper at Trump’s Crazy Press Conference: ‘This Is Insane’

. . . Susan Rice Among Those Offended

President Donald Trump’s exchange with a black journalist during Thursday’s whirlwind press conference has been branded ‘notably offensive’ by former National Security Adviser Susan Rice,Alexander Smith reported Friday for NBC News.

President Trump and April Ryan on Thursday. (CNN)

The president was asked by reporter April Ryan whether he planned to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in conversations on his urban agenda.


“Ryan, who is White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks . . . initially referred to the Congressional Black Caucus by its acronym, the CBC, prompting Trump to ask: ‘Am I going to include who?’

“Once Ryan elaborated, Trump asked her whether she wanted to set up the meeting, despite her telling him she was ‘just a reporter’ and not affiliated with the group.


“ ‘I tell you what: Do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting?’ he asked. ‘Let’s go. Set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus. I think it’s great, the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it’s great.’

“Rice, who was President Barack Obama’s national security adviser and the first black woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pointed to an article by Vox, which she said was ‘a cogent summary of why @realDonaldTrump’s answer to April Ryan was so notably offensive.’


“The article said Trump ‘genuinely seems to view black people as a monolithic “other” — a group of people who work and behave in exactly similar ways.’

“It also called the exchange an ‘unrivaled low’ for Trump.

“Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings made a similar point.

“ ‘I don’t think he knew what the CBC was ... and I think a lot of people assume that all black people know all black people,’ Cummings told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Thursday night. ‘The idea that the president would ask somebody in the press pool to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus... he’s the President of the United States of America. He can make that phone call himself.’


In one of several television appearances, Ryan said Thursday on “CNN Tonight” with Don Lemon that “When he [Trump] first said it, I was kind of shocked, (video) beecause I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a journalist . . . and I’m thinking maybe because he’s a novice to governance and protocol . . .” reported, “Although the moment in comparison with the rest of the press conference may have seemed small, it outraged so many people it became a trending topic on Twitter. . . .”


Not everyone was outraged in the same way. Writing for the right-wing, Brendan Kirby wrote Friday, “Emails pilfered from Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta’s email account and published in the fall by WikiLeaks suggest a rather chummy relationship between Ryan and the Clinton camp.”

Kirby also wrote, “Ryan was one of a number of journalists invited to an off-the-record dinner at Podesta’s home days before [Hillary] Clinton announced her candidacy. The following day, Ryan apologized to Podesta for missing the dinner and asked if Clinton showed up.


“’ No, but the food made up for it,’ he answered.

“Replied Ryan: ‘Sounds great. I am going on MSNBC hardball is there anything I should say about Hillary Clinton on the show!’ . . .”


Ryan told Journal-isms by telephone that she was not being cozy with the Democrats; she was acting as she does with all of her sources. If the Republicans gave a good speech, she says so as well. Ryan said she has interviewed or asked for interviews with the Republican candidates and said all during the campaign, in public, that Trump could be president.

When Ryan wrote, “Sounds great. I am going on MSNBC hardball is there anything I should say about Hillary Clinton on the show!” Ryan said she was asking whether there any news about Clinton that would enable her to advance the story.


Meanwhile, Rep. Cedric Raymond, D-La., chairman of the Black Caucus, said in a statement Thursday that “For whatever reason, the letter the Congressional Black Caucus sent to then President-elect Trump and incoming White House officials on January 19 was not enough to get their attention.” However, “Since the White House has reached out in an appropriate manner to request a meeting with the caucus, I am now in discussions with them about setting one up.”

In a separate development, Keach Hagey and Damian Paletta reported Thursday for the Wall Street Journal, “Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, met with a senior Time Warner Inc. executive in recent weeks and expressed the administration’s deep concerns about CNN’s news coverage, according to a White House official and other people familiar with the matter.”


“ . . . Mr. Kushner has taken issue with specific CNN contributors including Van Jones, a Democrat who served in the Obama administration, and Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist, who have each criticized Mr. Trump in harsh terms, the people familiar with the matter said. . . .”

Laurie Goodstein, New York Times: A Jewish Reporter Got to Ask Trump a Question. It Didn’t Go Well.


New America Media: 10 Resign from President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

R. Eric Thomas, Elle: You Don’t Ever Want to Come for Journalist April Ryan

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in red tie at right, watches Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., address voters and politicians Wednesday in a U.S. Senate office building. (Twitter)

Russia Manipulated News More ‘Than Even Fox’

“Russia and Russian agents did more to manipulate our news than even Fox,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told a Black History Month gathering of African American voters and public officials at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.


“Ponder that for a moment.”

Warner said that during the presidential campaign, sophisticated Internet trolls were able to “push certain weird stories to the top of the news” on Google search engines, so that “you would end up with a story about Hillary [Clinton]’s awful sickness crowding out other news. The stories came from RT, formerly known as Russia Today. Warner told Journal-isms that this aspect of the Russian hacking had not been reported nearly enough. “This story needs to be told,” he said.


Warner also said that the first WikiLeaks release of hacked emails from the account of John Podesta, Clinton campaign chairman, came within two hours of the release in the news media of a damaging video capturing Donald Trump talking in 2005 in lewd terms with Billy Bush, then of “Access Hollywood.” Both took place on Oct. 7.

On the search engine trolling, Warner press aide Rachel Cohen later referred Journal-isms to a Jan. 25 story in the Atlantic by Kaveh Waddell.


In the weeks after the election, tech companies scrambled to shoo fake news off of their platforms,” the story began. “It was too late to stave off pernicious false rumors about Hillary Clinton’s health problems, or her involvement in a nonexistent underground child-prostitution ring, but the companies still moved to make it harder to spread similar misinformation in the future.

“Facebook and Google quickly took aim at the most egregious offenders: websites that peddled deceptive news stories in order to attract hordes of readers and make money off of advertising. Both companies banned those types of sites from their powerful ad networks.


“But there’s a category of often-misleading news sources that seems to have escaped the notice of tech companies: state-sponsored outlets like RT, a TV network and online news website that’s funded by the Russian government.

“As my colleagues Julia Ioffe and Rosie Gray wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review and BuzzFeed, respectively, RT — formerly known as Russia Today — routinely shapes its coverage [to] portray Russia in the best possible light, and to make the West, and especially the United States, look bad.


“As part of a landmark report released last month, the intelligence community concluded that RT was part of a ‘state-run propaganda machine’ that spread misinformation about the U.S. election. The report said RT ‘actively collaborated’ with WikiLeaks, and gave its founder, Julian Assange, a platform from which to publicize documents stolen from top Democrats. (Some experts say, however, that the intelligence community may have overstated the channel’s influence.)

“RT stories regularly appear toward the top of Google search results. Earlier this month, when I Googled ‘ODNI hacking report’ on my smartphone, I was inundated with links to RT news stories and video clips from its TV broadcasts. (ODNI stands for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which released the document.) . . .”


Waddell also wrote, “A Google spokesperson declined to comment on whether the company had any policies for how to rank and display news stories and videos from state-sponsored outlets like RT. But since I reached out to the company, searching for ‘ODNI hacking report’ no longer displays sections for featured news stories or videos. . . . “

In a protest outside City Hall in Flint, Mich. on Jan. 25, 2016, resident Angela Hickmon, 56, calls for an end to paying water bills in the city until the “man-made disaster” is figured out. Residents tore up and burned their water bills. (Jake May/

Media Cited in Racism Surrounding Flint Crisis

The Flint drinking water crisis has its root causes in historical and systemic racism, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission said Friday in a hard-hitting report that calls the public health catastrophe ‘a complete failure of government’ and recommends a rewrite of the state’s emergency manager law and bias training for state officials,”Paul Egan reported Friday for the Detroit Free Press.


The 138-page report did not spare the news media.”While there was some media coverage, it was occasional and cursory,” the report said [PDF].

“The limited coverage begs the same question of the media that we ask of decision makers: Would things have been covered differently if it wasn’t Flint? Might the story have led the news, would stories have been more extensive? Most critical, would reporters have pushed government officials to provide acceptable answers? Those who made decisions on what stories to cover and how to do so will doubtlessly insist that race played no part in their decision making, that such factors were not considered at all.


“While not as frequent or extensive as it could have been, there was sufficient media coverage to ensure that most, if not all, of us were exposed to at least a couple of news stories showing people protesting about the brown, smelly, foul water in Flint. And yet nothing was done.

“Many of us still have vague memories of having watched, read or heard these stories. Others may not even remember them at all. But most had some awareness of what was happening at some point. Our lack of memory speaks to the level of importance we ascribed to ‘those’ people in Flint at the time, not that they didn’t exist. . . .”

Howard University had hoped that an influx of cash from the sale of the license for WHUT-TV could help address its financial struggles, but opponents objected. (Howard University)

Howard U. Decides Against Selling TV License

Howard University said Thursday that it’s withdrawing from the FCC’s spectrum auction, which enabled broadcast license holders to sell all or portions of their spectrum as part of an initiative to enable wireless carriers to expand their reach,Joseph Lichterman reported Thursday for Nieman Lab.


“Howard, based in Washington, D.C., was considering selling the license to its public television station, WHUT, which is the only black-owned public media station in the United States. But many within Howard objected to the sale.

“In a letter to Howard community members that was published by The Hilltop, Howard’s student paper, university president Wayne A. I. Frederick wrote that the school ‘voluntarily withdrew from the auction when it became apparent that the relatively low yield would not justify relinquishing the university’s rights to broadcast WHUT.’


“Initial estimates suggested the station could net $460 million from selling its license, but the auction’s reverse bidding process drove down the price. . . .

“The university had hoped that an influx of cash from the sale of the license could help address its financial struggles, but Howard Media Group, which is part of the university’s school of communications, outlined its opposition last year:

“ ‘We have examined the ongoing struggle by racial minorities to have a public voice that can only be achieved through the media. It is our position and concern that African Americans and other diverse populations that are able to be seen and heard through the station’s programming would lose substantially if WHUT were to cease to exist.’ . . .”


Short Takes

The Venezuelan government Wednesday ordered cable providers to take CNN en Español off the air, days after CNN aired an investigation into the alleged fraudulent issuing of Venezuelan passports and visas,” Steve Almasy reported Thursday for CNN. “The network ‘instigates religious, racial and political hatred,’ violence and other themes, National Telecommunications Commission Director Andres Eloy Mendez said Thursday morning on state-run VTV. . . .”


Stanley Nelson. Michel Martin. Tavis Smiley. Audie Cornish. If you’re in public media, these are filmmakers, journalists and personalities whose names you know,” April Simpson wrote Thursday for “We need your help to identify up-and-coming talents whose names we don’t know yet and should. . . . We’ll take your suggestions to produce a piece that highlights the individuals and their work. Just fill out this form by midnight Feb. 28. . . .”

Serena Williams (Emmanuelle Hauguel/Sports Illustrated)

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and its three covers debuted on Wednesday, but we’re most excited about one particular lady inside the mag: the one and only Serena Williams,” Jamie Feldman wrote Wednesday for the Huffington Post. “The recently engaged tennis champion looks sexy, strong and fierce as ever in the spread, wearing a teeny-tiny high-cut white Swim Like A Mermaid one-piece with wind-swept hair. . . .”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation no longer will allow individuals seeking public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to file requests via email, according to several reports, and several other agencies are following suit,” Emma Lux reported Friday for the Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press.


A few days ago, I stumbled across a fascinating collection of hand-drawn infographics by W.E.B. Du Bois, the African-American activist and scholar who co-founded the NAACP in 1909,” Amanda Montañez wrote Wednesday for Scientific American. “The series of 60 hand-drawn data visualizations was digitized by the Library of Congress in 2014, and has recently resurfaced in the media in honor of Black History Month. Dated circa 1900, each graph, chart, and map in the collection offers a data-driven portrait of a different aspect of black life in America. . . .”

Poverty reduction programs play a much more critical role in the economic security of working-age adults who lack a bachelor’s degree, including working-class whites, than they play for adults with a college degree,” Isaac Shapiro, Danilo Trisi and Raheem Chaudhry reported Thursday for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. They also wrote, “People of all races and ethnic groups who lack a bachelor’s degree receive significant help from the safety net, but on two significant metrics, the results for white working-age adults stand out. Among working-age adults without a college degree, 6.2 million whites are lifted above the poverty line by the safety net — more than any other racial or ethnic group. . . .”


Disability often makes people minimize cases of abuse and torture, turning them into ‘pranks’ or ‘bullying’ rather than recognizing them for what they are  —  unless the victim is white and young, and the crime involves one or more perpetrators of color,” s.e. smith wrote Wednesday for Pacific Standard.

Shortly after the debut of Black Entertainment Television’s new drama ‘The Quad,’ officials from historically black colleges and universities quietly steamed about perceived inequities in the show’s representation of HBCU culture.” Jarrett Carter Sr. reported Thursday for HBCU Digest. “Today, the complaints of many were outlined in a single letter written to BET President Debra Lee penned by Hampton University President William R. Harvey, who slammed the series for its misrepresentation of HBCU leadership, student culture and the challenges faced by the institutions. . . .”


“This weekend we begin a series of five interviews with prominent African American women from the ‘Explorations in Black Leadership’ oral history collection,” C-SPAN announces regarding its C-SPAN3 American History TV channel. “Gwen Ifill was a journalist who worked for the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News, and for ‘Washington Week’ and ‘NewsHour’ on PBS. She died in 2016. Ms. Ifill discusses her upbringing as the daughter of an outspoken AME minister, her work as a print reporter and on-camera news personality, and her experience with racism in the newsroom. This 2009 interview was conducted by civil rights leader and Professor Julian Bond.” It airs on Sunday at noon ET. C-SPAN shows can later be viewed at

On C-SPAN3 Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, “Timothy Tyson, senior research scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, recalls the life and death of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year old African-American, who was tortured and killed in Mississippi in 1955. Mr. Tyson speaks at Regulator Bookshop in Durham, North Carolina.”


“Thank you, Richard Prince, for having the vision, so many years ago, to focus on diversity. A wonderful by-product of your work is that your readers receive fact-based, solid journalism. Perfect.”


Randall Pinkston, alumnus of CBS News, Al Jazeera America and WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., where he was the first African American anchor in the state. Randall is shown on the campaign trail in 2016.

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Richard Prince’s Journal-isms originates from Washington. It began in print before most of us knew what the internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a “column.” Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.


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