Just as we're having an intense conversation about mass shootings and gun control, the media are fixating on some remarks by President Trump that do nothing to advance the debate.
The president probably should have avoided the braggadocious comments, but this is the pattern we've seen so many times: Trump says something inartful, that causes a media eruption, and the underlying issue is overshadowed as the pundits race to their battle stations.
To me, the overriding question right now is whether Trump and Congress are going to actually do something in the wake of the Florida school shooting after the president put the issue at the top of the national agenda.
But the coverage took a sharp turn after Trump spoke to the semi-annual gathering of governors. As he denigrated the failure of deputy sheriffs to run into the Parkland high school as the gunman opened fire, the part of the Trump quote that many are using is this: "I really believe I'd run in, even if I didn't have a weapon."
Now that sounds like he's casting himself as some kind of superhero, and was guaranteed to draw criticism.
But here’s the full context: "I really believe--you don't know until you test it, but I think--I'd really believe I'd run into--even if I didn't have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that too, because I know most of you. But the way they performed was really a disgrace."
So what Trump was saying was that he was not more courageous than "most of the people in this room," but still believes—though you never really know until confronted with a crisis—that he would have done more than the dormant deputies.
That was the lead of the New York Times story. The Washington Post ran a piece saying "here's what he’s done in the face of danger": accepting five Vietnam draft deferments (one of them for bone spurs) and appearing spooked when a man charged the stage at a campaign rally.
Others ran pieces on Trump critic Stephen Colbert mocking the president. USA Today’s headline: "Late night: Trump's living in a 'fantasy world' for saying he’d have 'run in' to Fla. school."
The Chicago Tribune’s headline: "Colbert to Trump: 'What are you going to do, run in there and stab them with your bone spurs?'"
Did Trump open the door with his comments? Sure. But ultimately, who cares? It's a hypothetical. We don't hire presidents to risk their lives fighting crime.
The far more important question (covered by some) is how hard he will push the Hill do act on his gun proposals.
The president repeated his determination to ban bump stocks. He said again that the country needs "very strong" background checks ("If I see a sicko, I don’t want him having a gun") and to reform mental institutions.
Trump continues to talk about arming trained teachers and others in school, although the other day he indicated that would be up to the states, which would mean no federal action.
But as some journalists pointed out, Trump did not mention his plan to raise the age limit on buying assault-style weapons like the AR-15 from 18 to 21. He said last week that the NRA would go along, but the group continues to oppose the idea. So is the president backing off?
In disclosing that he had lunch with top NRA officials, Trump told the governors "they're on our side." But he also said, "If they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK." (Sarah Sanders said yesterday her boss still supports raising age limits on some guns.)
If Trump, a vocal defender of the Second Amendment, does go up against the NRA, that would show a different kind of courage than running into a building under siege by a gunman.