As badly as White House chief of staff John Kelly roasted Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., his statements about her unseemly politicization of the president's call to a Gold Star widow were at the same time a rebuke to how the media reflexively aided Wilson's narrative.
Kelly said at the press briefing Thursday that he was "stunned" and "brokenhearted" when he saw Wilson in TV interviews and quoted in news reports divulging details about a personal call from Trump to Myeisha Johnson, whose husband died in an enemy ambush earlier this month in Niger.
In front of a room of uncharacteristically hushed reporters, Kelly said he was dismayed to see Wilson politicize one of the few sacred things left: The mourning of a fallen soldier. In this case, Sgt. La David T. Johnson.
Wilson told reporters earlier in the week that she was there for the on-speaker call between President Trump and Myeisha Johnson. She said Trump was "insensitive" because, according to Wilson, Trump told Johnson, "Well, I guess he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurts."
Wilson told the story to a Miami NBC affiliate and it was passed around by journalists on social media.
Jill Filipovic, a liberal contributor to the New York Times, said on Twitter, "What kind of awful soulless human says this? How does anyone still support this man?"
CNN national security analyst Michael Weiss said the quote relayed by Wilson would be comparable to Trump saying, "If you can't stand the heat, stay outta the kitchen."
Wilson went on CNN Tuesday night to recount the story and then did it again Wednesday morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
There is no recording of the conversation to corroborate Wilson's quote or even her ungenerous interpretation of the phone call. Assuming the quote is accurate, Kelly said he had told Trump to say something along those same lines, because it was what most comforted Kelly after his own son died serving in Afghanistan.
But MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, who spends three hours each weekday giving his best daring look into a TV camera, helped Wilson's tale move along.
When Wilson said at the end of the interview that she's "not trying to politicize" the call, Scarborough sympathetically replied, "No, we completely understand. We completely understand."
Trump said Thursday night on Twitter that Wilson's version of the call was a "total lie," which CNN's Chris Cillizza, the Golden Corral of political commentary, said was an example of the president taking "the low road."
When a congresswoman from the opposing party tells an impugning story about the president's respect for a dead soldier, "We completely understand." But when Trump defends himself, it's "the low road."
News publications running articles on Wilson's story botched it even further, readily printing the first half of Wilson's Trump quote ("He knew what he was getting into when he signed up...") while disregarding the rest ("…but I guess it still hurts.")
The New York Times, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and NBC all ran pieces that included the first half of Wilson's quote without the second.
To print the only the first part of the quote is to portray Trump as indifferent to a lost loved one. But the second part makes all the difference, instead showing someone who sees the pain a person has to endure.
At the press briefing Thursday, Kelly also recalled an event he attended in 2015, the dedication of a new FBI building in Florida to two agents who were killed by drug traffickers. He said that at the ceremony, Wilson, "in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise," stood up and "talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building."
A video from the speech shows Kelly was wrong about the funding, but right about Wilson making the most noise.
Dressed in one of her trademark loud hats, she told the audience about how, under a tight government deadline, it was she who secured the dedication under the two agents' names.
"Everyone said that's impossible," Wilson said of the time crunch. "It takes at least eight months to a year to complete the process through the House, the Senate, and to the president's office. I said, 'I'm a school principal,' and I said, 'Excuse my French — oh, hell no! We're going to get this done.' Immediately, I went to attack mode."
What followed was a long story about how Wilson saved the day.
Journalists are now asserting that the resurfaced video took the weight out of Kelly's statements Thursday, but it doesn't.
Kelly is a retired marine with an extended career commanding armed forces in Iraq, Central America, and elsewhere. His son died in the war in Afghanistan. That he got a minor point wrong about Wilson funding the FBI building is irrelevant, because he was right about Wilson making the speech a tribute to herself.
Kelly said at the briefing Thursday that what Wilson did, spreading information about a deeply personal phone call, was tasteless.
It was, and the press helped her.
Eddie Scarry is a media reporter for the Washington Examiner.