Members of the media reached various states hysteria on Monday after President Donald Trump joked about how “dangerous” Conan the military dog can be.
During a White House event in the afternoon, Trump honored Conan for his role in the U.S. special forces raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October. The president riffed about how Conan is “vicious” and “dangerous,” saying he considered muzzling the dog “but then it gets even more violent.”
However, Trump immediately made clear he was not serious.
“But no, the dog is incredible, actually incredible. We spent some good time with it, and so brilliant, so smart,” he said. “The way it was with the special forces people it works with, and for obvious reasons, they can’t be out in front of the media, but they did a fantastic job. Conan did a fantastic job. And we’re very honored to have Conan here.”
Later, Trump described Conan’s reputed ability to take down even the toughest of men.
“Conan is a tough cookie, and nobody’s going to mess with Conan,” he said. “I got to see how fast Conan can move. I said what chance would a strong man have — really strong, tough, fighter — what chance would this person have against Conan without the guns? What chance? And I guess the answer is pretty much none. He would have no chance.”
“You’re very lucky he’s not in a bad mood,” Trump added, pointing into the press area.
The media reacts after Trump “threatens” them with Conan
Cue the media meltdown. Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason quickly identified himself on Twitter as the targeted journalist.
In which the president of the United States tells this reporter (me) it’s a good thing this military dog is not in a bad mood today. pic.twitter.com/4MtlxpmNUn
— Jeff Mason (@jeffmason1) November 25, 2019
Eamon Javers, CNBC’s Washington correspondent, tweeted that Trump had put all the journalists in attendance on notice.
President Trump brings out Conan the Special Forces dog from the al Baghdadi raid. President Trump says Conan is trained to attack if you open your mouth – and warns the press to be careful. pic.twitter.com/zzLyQFOjbY
— Eamon Javers (@EamonJavers) November 25, 2019
A number of liberal-leaning news outlets ran headlines saying Trump had threatened a reporter with canine violence.
“Trump Threatens to Sic Conan the Military Dog on Reporter,” blared Vanity Fair.
“It’s trained that if you open your mouths you will be attacked. You ought to be very, very careful” https://t.co/hMKLtYJ8z9
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) November 26, 2019
Raw Story similarly declared: “Trump threatens to sic Army dog on reporters during bizarre presentation.”
Other journalists found fault with Trump’s body language and supposed distance from Conan, with some falsely claiming the president had not petted the dog.
The Nation’s national affairs correspondent Joan Walsh, deemed the president and first lady Melania Trump’s interaction with Conan simply “terrifying.”
This is terrifying. Trump and Melania exude coldness to Conan the hero dog. Melania, whose coat is slightly macabre (to me, but others may find it lovely), moves away from Conan multiple times. 1/3 https://t.co/s9T3Y4ZYTn
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) November 25, 2019
CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett suggested Vice President Mike Pence had undermined Trump by petting Conan.
— Kate Bennett (@KateBennett_DC) November 25, 2019
Comedian Frankie Boyle expressed shock that Conan was being honored at all given that children died in the Baghdadi raid.
Two children died in this raid – they're giving a dog a certificate. https://t.co/rpGIPGn9AV
— Frankie Boyle (@frankieboyle) November 25, 2019
According to the military, Baghdadi killed two of his children during the raid by taking them with him into a tunnel and detonating a suicide vest.
“He died like a dog”
Trump’s most diehard critics have long faulted him for allegedly not liking dogs. They have cited as evidence his lack of a family pet and his use of canine-themed insults, including during the Oct. 27 White House address announcing Baghdadi’s death.
“He died like a dog,” Trump said of the terrorist. “He died like a coward.”
However, the president repeatedly credited the real-life dogs who helped U.S. troops pull off the raid. He said they had “chased down” Baghdadi, forcing him to detonate a suicide vest. While no U.S. personnel were wounded, Trump said, one “beautiful” and “talented” service dog had been injured.
The day after the briefing, Trump tweeted a declassified picture he said was of the “wonderful” dog that did “such a GREAT JOB” in Saturday’s mission. It was only on Wednesday that he revealed the dog’s name is Conan.
Citing a senior Pentagon source, Newsweek reported that Conan was named after talk show host Conan O’Brien. The dog was hurt after being exposed to live electrical cables but has returned to active duty, according to the Pentagon.