"Watchdog" press ignores Trump's Gettysburg gibberish

Jon Stewart discusses Donald Trump’s Gettysburg remarks on The Daily Show

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

Seldom do late-night TV hosts scoop the giants of the mainstream news media. But that seems to be the case regarding news coverage of Donald Trump’s campaign rally on Saturday, April 13, in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, near Gettysburg.

Here’s how Mark Sumner of the Daily Kos website put it: “The only thing more amazing than Trump’s Gettysburg address may be how PBSThe Associated PressThe New York TimesCNN, and The Washington Post all managed to cover Trump’s rally without mentioning one word of this historic statement…Had President Joe Biden said anything half so irrational, every one of those same outlets would have dedicated their full front pages to a discussion of Biden’s mental fitness.”

What had alarmed Sumner—and what late night hosts Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert found laughable—were these 136 words from Trump:

Our nation was saved by the immortal heroes at Gettysburg. Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle that was. The battle of Gettysburg what an unbelievable. I mean it was so was so much, and so interesting, and so vicious and horrible, and so beautiful in so many different ways—it represented such a big portion of the success of this country.

Gettysburg, wow! I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to look and to watch. And uh the statement of Robert E. Lee, who’s no longer in favor—did you ever notice that? He’s no longer in favor. “Never fight uphill, me boys, never fight uphill.” They were fighting uphill, he said. Wow, that was a big mistake, he lost his great general and uh they were fighting uphill. “Never fight uphill, me boys,” but it was too late.

For the record, Abraham Lincoln’s November 19, 1863 Gettysburg address was short, too, 271 words.

The late-night hosts likened Trump turning Robert E. Lee into a leprechaun or pirate with the “me boys” rhetoric. 

T.J. Stiles, a Pulitzer Prize winner for biography (2010) and history (2016), characterized Trump’s Gettysburg comments as “inarticulate,” “reductive,” “rambling,” and “unhinged.”

Other brief notes related to the press and Gettysburg speeches:

• Despite not covering Trump’s speech, The New York Times did report on the ridicule of the speech in its “Late Night” feature of April 16—although the primary focus was on Trump apparently dozing off at his current trial.

• The record of newspaper coverage of Gettysburg speeches is not impressive. Lincoln’s now hallowed speech was not well covered. (The featured speaker was Edward Everett, a well-known orator of the time, former government official and president of Harvard. He spoke for two hours. Lincoln’s address lasted for about two minutes.) On the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s address, The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Patriot & News newspaper apologized for a November 1863 editorial in the Harrisburg Patriot & Union that had characterized Lincoln’s thoughts as “silly.”

• In the speech at Schnecksville, Trump did not mention an incident from October 2022, when he agreed with a pollster/supporter who supposedly had told him, “Sir, if George Washington and Abraham Lincoln came alive from the dead and they formed a president-vice president team, you would beat them by 40 percent” (that is, 70-30).

• For the mainstream news media, the focus of the Schnecksville coverage was Trump’s then upcoming trial and his endorsement of Dave McCormick, a former hedge fund CEO, in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. Trump had refused to endorse McCormick in a GOP primary two years ago because McCormick would not say the 2020 election was stolen by President Biden.

• For assurance that, on occasion, people in high public office can speak eloquently, let’s wrap up this comment on the 2024 Gettysburg address with Lincoln’s conclusion from 1863, and our hope for the November 5 election:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

About the Author(s)

Herb Strentz

  • Gettysburg is no exception

    CNN and other mainstream media typically censor Trump’s campaign speeches. Without transparency there is no democracy, and Jon Stewart did the right thing.