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'Moral Free-Fall' Exposed by Media Frenzy Over Trump Aide's John McCain Comment

A tasteless remark by an assistant to the president drew more attention than the White House's nomination of Gina Haspel, who ran a CIA black site where detainees were tortured

After a private conversation among White House advisers was leaked the press, many in the the political media seized upon a tasteless remark made by an aide as being indicative of the overall "tone" of the Trump administration. (Photo: Joe Campbell/Flickr/cc)

As many in the political press on Friday seized on a comment about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reportedly made in a private White House meeting the day before, critics condemned the day-long news frenzy at the end of a week in which President Trump—among other offenses—furthered his attacks on immigrants, gave away the store to Big Pharma, gutted protections for student borrowers, and urged the Senate to confirm Gina Haspel, who oversaw the torture of human beings and then destroyed the video evidence of that torture, as the next director of the CIA.

According to a report leaked to The Hill on Thursday, as staffers discussed the likelihood that the Senate would confirm Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel—who ran a CIA black site in the early 2000s where detainees were tortured, and participated in covering up the evidence of torture—the discussion turned to John McCain's opposition to Haspel. The senator had issued a statement saying Haspel's "refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying."

"It doesn't matter, he's dying anyway," one aide, Kelly Sadler, reportedly said.

The leaked conversation provoked widespread outcry in Washington among politicians as well as members of the media, with questions about whether Sadler would be fired swirling at the White House press briefing on Friday, nearly 24 hours after the comment was first reported.

A few observers noted the disconnect between a political media up in arms over a comment made by a special communications assistant to the president in a closed-door meeting, versus public remarks made by high-profile Republican and Democratic senators this week in which they dismissed Haspel's history of torture, as well as other egregious Trump policy proposals and actions that have been largely ignored by those same pundits throughout the week.

In just one example, CNN commentator Chris Cillizza provoked ire after tweeting that Sadler's comment made him "angry and depressed about our politics."

Former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, a long-time Senate colleague of McCain's, pronounced Sadler's remark as the moment when "decency...hit rock bottom with this administration."

Others were less convinced it would be quite so easy to pick the "rock bottom" of the Trump era.

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