Before the national champion Clemson University Tigers’ football team visited the White House Monday evening, the media echo chamber questioned whether the event should even take place during a government shutdown. After the champs had visited with the president and eaten fast food, the media lemmings transformed themselves into food critics. Sports Illustrated created a “BurgerGate” controversy by claiming the president had lied about how many hamburgers were catered. Yes, the media was that petty.
On Monday afternoon, USA Today remarked: “President Trump has received some criticism for inviting Clemson to the White House in the midst of a partial U.S. government shutdown, which reached its 24th day on Monday, the longest shutdown in U.S. history.”
Mollie R. Simon, of the Anderson Independent Mail, echoed that:
“Clemson players and coaches are set to visit the White House on Monday, exactly one week after winning the College Football Playoff National Championship and roughly three weeks into the longest government shutdown in history.
“The optics of the White House celebration did not sit well with some observers nationally, and even some fans and graduates of Clemson University disagreed with the timing. The trip came together faster than visits from previous college football champions during the Trump administration.”
Simon infused politics into her story by discussing Julianna Ellis, a Clemson graduate and federal employee who just missed a paycheck because of the shutdown. “I have seen others not sure how they will pay rent or feed their families,” said Ellis, a park ranger in South Dakota. “It is hard to see people in my position struggling and then to have this sort of trivial event.”
In the evening, President Donald Trump walked into the East Room amid cheers from the Tigers, who had demolished top-ranked Alabama 44-16 in last week’s national championship game. Flanked by Vice-president Mike Pence, Clemson’s president and dignitaries, the president congratulated Clemson on becoming the first team in history to go 15-0 in a season.
Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said, “What a fun day it’s been. It’s an honor to be a part of this tradition, and to be honest with you, it’s really cool that football can create an opportunity like this.”
The Washington Post headlined its post-event story, “‘Trump has turned the White House into a White Castle’: President roasted for serving Clemson fast food”. Allyson Chiu’s largely critical story focused first on the food servings:
“Boxes of McDonald’s Quarter Pounders, Big Macs and Filet-O-Fish sandwiches were stacked in neat rows next to pyramids of packaged salads. The Wendy’s girl and her wholesome grin decorated mounds of wraps. Silver gravy boats overflowed with packets of dipping sauce for Chicken McNuggets. On a separate table, Domino’s pizzas and french fries repackaged in cups bearing the presidential seal basked under what appeared to be heat lamps.”
Chiu reports one Clemson player was overhead saying, “Our nutritionist must be having a fit,” and a teammate saying, “I thought it was a joke.” She writes that they were “accurately capturing many people’s reaction to the president’s earlier promise to serve college football’s national champions items found on various dollar menus. Only the meal was very real, and late-night hosts and the Internet had a lot to say about it.” Chiu reported some of the more obnoxious comments by the late-night TV hosts.
“Of all the crazy things Trump said and did over the weekend, this might be the craziest,” Jimmy Kimmel said on his ABC show Monday night. … “He’s paying the check, so he had to get the cheapest food they could find. … And you know he’s taking whatever they don’t eat back to his bedroom. He’ll be like the rat in ‘Charlotte’s Web’ tonight rolling around in Quarter Pounders with cheese.”
On CBS, Stephen Colbert impersonated President Trump saying, “We’re going to eat all of their favorite foods — burgers, KFC, taco bowls, two scoops of ice cream. We’re going to watch their favorite movie, the 2016 election results. Then, I will spank them all with a rolled-up Forbes. I hear they’re really into that.”
Chiu’s derisive story also included negative social media comments, including some claiming the scene was bizarre and the offering of fast food was childish.
The Post writer acknowledged that some conservatives slammed the criticisms as “elitist,” and saying “real Americans” often eat fast food. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, thought the meal was appropriate for college students. To Trump’s credit, she writes, the hungry Tigers mowed through the fast food without leaving many left-overs behind.
USA Today‘s Tom Schad politicized the celebration, which occurred “In the midst of the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history … . Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump covered the cost of the food because ‘the Democrats refuse to negotiate on border security’ and “much of the residence staff at the White House is furloughed.”
Sports Illustrated‘s Dan Gartland raised the “BurgerGate” issue by nitpicking over how many burgers Trump said the football players ate. “Trump proudly showed off the heaps of fast food before the players had a chance to dig in, boasting that he had ordered 300 burgers. By Tuesday morning, though, that number had more than tripled, with Trump claiming there were ‘over 1000 hamberders [sic] etc.’ that were all devoured by the ravenous Tigers.”
Gartland figured this would mean the players ate an average of 10 burgers each, plus pizza and fries. He concluded, “The only explanation is that ‘1000’ was a typo, just like ‘hamberders.’ Or he’s lying. Either way.”