"Texans Brace For President's Response To Hurricane," said the headline.
"HOUSTON - Battening down the hatches as the potentially disastrous situation unfolded, Texans braced themselves Friday for President Trump's response to Hurricane Harvey. 'I don't know how bad it's going to be, but I'm preparing for the worst,' said resident Jacob Hoyt, echoing the sentiments of millions of residents along the state's coast who were hunkering down for what many predict will be a catastrophically inept relief effort."
Of course, that little "fake news" isn't real; it was posted last week on the wacky website The Onion. But it's really not that far from how the mainstream media is covering the hurricane, and especially President Trump's visit to Texas on Tuesday.
Everything changed exactly 12 years ago yesterday, Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina smashed New Orleans. Then-President George W. Bush was on the West Coast at the time and, on his return trip to Washington, flew over the city to see the damage, saying he didn't want to distract with a presidential visit. The media immediately made him out to be a heartless cad who couldn't be bothered with the devastating catastrophe.
It didn't help that city and state officials had badly planned how to deal with the hurricane, or that then-director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown - once the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association - bungled the federal response ("Heckuva job, Brownie!").
Since then, every president has been careful to show just how deeply they care about natural disasters. Barack Obama did it throughout his two terms, and President Trump has made a serious effort to get out the word that he's all over Hurricane Harvey. He's tweeted 22 times and on Tuesday flew to Texas to view the damage, stopping in Corpus Christi and Austin, where he was briefed by local and state officials.
"Just arrived at Camp David where I am closely watching the path and doings of Hurricane Harvey, as it strengthens to a Category 3. BE SAFE!," Mr. Trump tweeted on Friday. "My administration is coordinating closely with state and local authorities in Texas and Louisiana to save lives, and we thank our first responders and all of those involved in their efforts," Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday.
But CNN was quick to criticize Mr. Trump - even before he left for Texas. "While there are critics of Trump's approach - he's not showing sympathy/empathy, Twitter isn't the ideal medium to communicate about a crisis - he's clearly reacting to the criticism leveled at former President George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina," CNN's Chris Cillizza wrote Tuesday morning.
And therein lies the rub: Stay away, and the MSM will accuse you of "not showing sympathy/empathy"; travel to the storm-ravaged area, and the MSM will decry your selfish act, claiming that you've taken resources from the response to the disaster.
A former Obama official, Jen Psaki, said Mr. Trump did just that on Tuesday. "It is always a tricky calculation on when to go, but @realDonaldTrump going too early to Texas (tues) would divert significant resources," she wrote on Twitter.
The New York Times called Mr. Trump's vocal concern "a calculated display of energetic presidential leadership." The Washington Post's "conservative" blogger said Mr. Trump is "burdening Texas resources for selfish political reasons." And The Post wrote an entire story about it, headlined "Mr. President, the flood victims should come first, not your photo op."
"Afraid of being labeled insensitive and not wanting to miss a chance for praise (Oh, thank you for coming, Mr. President!), President Trump heads today to Texas, where first responders are still searching for trapped residents, tens of thousands may be without homes for an extended basis, floodwaters are still waist-high in parts of Houston and 12,000 Texas National Guard troops have been deployed. Really, he's going to pull resources and attention away from victims during this crisis?" The Post wrote.
"Even though Trump reportedly will not be going to the Houston area itself, the extent of the crisis would suggest that now is not the time to go at all," the Trump-hating paper concluded.
The Los Angeles Times leaped in with its own piece: "Trump hopes to show himself as a leader of action and efficiency. But his visit poses its own potential problems. Law enforcement, medical and other emergency officials are often wary of diverting critical resources to presidential security and logistics while major relief operations are still underway. Presidential visits require ordering hospitals on stand-by, closing air space and supplementing federal security detail with state and local officers."
Of course, it doesn't matter to Trump haters that the two places he visited on Tuesday - Corpus Christi and Austin - have already been hit and Hurricane Harvey has moved on to Houston and beyond.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told CBS that by staying away from Houston, Mr. Trump "will not be getting into harm's way or interrupting the evacuations or emergency response."
But that doesn't matter. Mr. Trump was damned if he didn't visit - and damned if he did. And that's just exactly how the mainstream media likes it.
• Joseph Curl has covered politics for 25 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.