NYT’s Frank Bruni Blames Trump, Mike Johnson for Escalation at Columbia

News & Politics

Appearing as a guest on Tuesday’s Erin Burnett OutFront, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni tried to blame Republicans Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson for the escalation by far-left anti-Israel protesters at Columbia University that included taking over and occupying an academic building.

Host Erin Burnett recalled that other schools had had more success in negotiating the demands of protesters, and then posed: “What do you think is different here about Columbia? There has been no ability to tamp it down.”

Bruni quickly pointed a finger at Speaker Johnson recently visiting Columbia University and calling for more to be done to stop Jewish students from being harassed:

BRUNI: Yeah, I mean, part of it is, everything that happens in New York City is on steroids, right?.. I also think that various political actors — and this is indicative of our grievance culture. Various political actors have decided to choose this particular circumstance to come in and choose their sides and make their statements, and I think that has accelerated and amplified things. Mike Johnson, for example — the Speaker of the House — a week ago, I was writing about how much I admired the fact that he made common cause with Democrats — changed his mind about Ukraine aid, and then, the next day or the day beyond that, he goes up to New York — he didn’t need to be here — and he says, “Maybe we should bring in the National Guard.”

So a politician calling for less hate is “accelerating and amplifying” the problem, not the protesters.

After Burnett recalled that she had been there during Speaker Johnson’s visit and was surprised about the unhappy students surrounding him, Bruni added:

BRUNI: But did he need to do that? You know, so many of the voices that have joined the situation and have shouted about it — because that’s what we do these days — we shout, we don’t talk. Have they been there for — to score political points and their own purposes? Or have they come there really to come and solve this? I think this has been a sort of — this particular situation has attracted political actors scoring points in a way that the situation on some of those other campuses have not.

Once again, what are the protesters doing there if not to “score political points”? 

Burnett — who last week pressed Speaker Johnson from the left on the issue of him criticizing anti-Israel protesters — voiced agreement with her left-leaning guest:

BURNETT: Yeah, right. Maybe somehow maybe because it’s Columbia. He came, he brought — he brought four — three or four other representatives with him, and I, you know, I was standing next to him. I was — the students couldn’t fully hear him, and that was a good thing because if they had heard what they were saying — in one case, saying, “You all should be ashamed” — there would have been a true outcry. The intention of them appearing was for the press conference part, not to actually talk to the students.

Again, as if the protesters aren’t there for the cameras.

A bit later, after the CNN host recalled that seeing broken windows, “I’m thinking of that indelible image of the Capitol, far-right protesters on January 6. Here we are on April 30, people who would identify themselves as far-left protesters doing the same thing.” Bruni suggested that President Trump had culpability because he has defended January 6 rioters:

BRUNI: Well, you do have to ask if there’s a through line from one to the other. I mean, on January 6, we had a President still at the time — now a former President who has romanticized what’s happened there — who has sent the message that if you really believe in something and if you’re fighting for it, you do the most provocative, disruptive, confrontational thing possible. That’s what the rioters on January 6 did. That’s what these students and their non-student allies, whatever you want to call them, were doing here. There’s this — it’s all the same sort of ethos — the same sort of approach.

It was not mentioned that left-wing anti-police protesters showed plenty of ability to cause damage (more than a billion dollars) during the summer of 2020 before the Capitol Hill riots of 2021 had even happened.

Transcript follows:

CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront

April 30, 2024

7:43 a.m. Eastern

ERIN BURNETT: So, Frank, I’m just trying to understand — and I know every situation because there’s different individuals involved, right — but Yale and Brown today succeeded — two different ways but negotiating so that the encampments were dismantled and things appear to be going back to normal. Some of the students, you know, in the case of one of the universities — okay, look at the police are walking here as we’re talking so we’re seeing where they’re going. As they do that, Frank, what do you think is different here about Columbia? There has been no ability to tamp it down.

FRANK BRUNI, NEW YORK TIMES: Yeah, I mean, part of it is, everything that happens in New York City is on steroids right now. We don’t know exactly who’s in that building and what effect that has on it. I also think that various political actors — and this is indicative of our grievance culture. Various political actors have decided to choose this particular circumstance to come in and choose their sides and make their statements, and I think that has accelerated and amplified things. Mike Johnson, for example — the Speaker of the House — a week ago, I was writing about how much I admired the fact that he made common cause with Democrats — changed his mind about Ukraine aid, and then, the next day or the day beyond that, he goes up to New York — he didn’t need to be here — and he says, “Maybe we should bring in the National Guard.” We have two —

BURNETT: I was there, by the way, on the steps at Columbia when he was there, and he came out, and he said and did what he intended to do.

BRUNI: Right.

BURNETT: But he was clearly taken aback and surprised by how many students were there. And at that point — there were only a few hundred — but they gathered — and they were not happy, which is not what he was expecting.

BRUNI: But did he need to do that? You know, so many of the voices that have joined the situation and have shouted about it — because that’s what we do these days — we shout, we don’t talk. Have they been there for — to score political points and their own purposes? Or have they come there really to come and solve this? I think this has been a sort of — this particular situation has attracted political actors scoring points in a way that the situation on some of those other campuses have not.

BURNETT: Yeah, right. Maybe somehow maybe because it’s Columbia. He came, he brought — he brought four — three or four other representatives with him, and I, you know, I was standing next to him. I was — the students couldn’t fully hear him, and that was a good thing because if they had heard what they were saying — in one case, saying, “You all should be ashamed” — there would have been a true outcry. The intention of them appearing was for the press conference part, not to actually talk to the students.

BRUNI: They came here because New York City is the media capital. Where are you and I sitting right now? We’re sitting in a studio in New York City. They came here because more cameras are here. More media companies are here than in any other city.

(…)

BURNETT: These kids were offered — the ones that are students, you know, that they would be able to not be expelled, you know, that if they would just to sign papers to back off today. Which at Yale, Brown — this seemed to work to deescalate — did not happen in this case. But when we look at the images of where — I don’t know how many people are in there and how many of them are students, but right now, in Hamilton Hall, in Columbia, right near these images that you’re looking at where when the police go in that is where we anticipate this confrontation will happen — we saw the students occupy it and whoever else was with them, broken windows. And the first thing when you see that broken window, I’m thinking of that indelible image of the Capitol, far-right protesters on January 6. Here we are on April 30, people who would identify themselves as far-left protesters doing the same thing.

BRUNI: Well, you do have to ask if there’s a through line from one to the other. I mean, on January 6, we had a President still at the time — now a former President who has romanticized what’s happened there — who has sent the message that if you really believe in something and if you’re fighting for it, you do the most provocative, disruptive, confrontational thing possible. That’s what the rioters on January 6 did. That’s what these students and their non-student allies, whatever you want to call them, were doing here. There’s this — it’s all the same sort of ethos — the same sort of approach.

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