Yes, the whole tale is really pretty sad. Weird, sure – totally bizarre, even – but in the end, just sad.
Sam Nunberg burst onto America's airwaves Monday, showing up on nearly every network, sometimes more than once. The former aide to not-yet-candidate Donald Trump had made big news: He vowed to ignore a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
But Nunberg went much further, telling CNN: "Trump may have very well done something during the election with the Russians."
Well, that got the media's attention, and both the “CBS Evening News" and ABC’s "World News Tonight" opened their broadcasts with the blockbuster claim.
“The former Trump campaign aide believes investigators have evidence that the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Russians, but Nunberg refuses to appear before a federal grand jury,” said CBS reporter Paula Reid.
Nunberg was everywhere from mid-afternoon into the evening. But by the end, the whole story unraveled. In one interview, Nunberg took credit for being the brains behind Trump's winning campaign, saying: "I came up with the wall, I came up with the Muslim ban, I came up with everything to attack Jeb Bush, all that stuff."
The networks – desperate for any dirt on Trump, from anyone! – put someone on their air repeatedly who they knew, or should have known, was, as his friend said, an "obviously fragile man."
But that's only a small part of Nunberg's delusions of grandeur. In fact, he was fired in February 2014 by Trump – even after he offered to simply resign. Nunberg was rehired as a communications adviser to the Trump campaign in February 2015 and then fired again in August 2015.
Trump went out of his way to knock Nunberg. And Nunberg was called a “low-level, part-time consultant" by the campaign after his firing.
“Sam Nunberg was fired. He’s a highly self-destructive individual who makes routine calls begging for his job back,” Trump told The Daily Beast in December 2015 after Nunberg said in an interview that Trump wouldn't win the GOP nomination. “This is the interview of a desperate person who is trying to hang on and stay relevant.”
As the day wore on Monday, with Nunberg acting more bizarre – during one phone interview he got another call and actually said "let me take this for two seconds, OK?" His friends began to get worried, the Daily Beast reported. They were worried Nunberg "had been drinking prior to dialing in to MSNBC and CNN."
When Nunberg appeared on CNN's "Out Front" with Erin Burnett, he went on a rant about Trump and Mueller. Burnett was put off immediately.
“You’ve done six interviews this the past four hours,” Burnett said. “‘Bizarre’ was a word that some White House officials were using to describe some of your interviews. ‘Nuts’ is another one.… I reached out to a Trump ally. This person told me ... ‘you’re drunk or off your meds.’ At least half a dozen other CNN reporters have received similar messages. Is this a hit job or is something wrong?”
Later, Burnett pushed harder. "You're sitting very close to me, we talked earlier about what people in the White House were saying about you.... Talking to you, I have smelled alcohol on your breath," Burnett said.
"Well, I have not had a drink," Nunberg said.
"Anything else?" Burnett asked.
"No. No," Nunberg said. "Besides my meds," he added, smiling. "Anti-depressants. Is that OK?"
As Burnett pointed out, many Washington insiders knew by then that something was askew with Nunberg. And yet they still quoted him – a "low-level part-time consultant" who Trump fired twice, most recently more than a year before the presidential election.
MSNBC's Katy Tur asked Nunberg: “Do you think that they have something on the president?"
“I think they may,” Nunberg said. “I think that he may have done something during the election." And MSNBC ran with the "story" all day, over and over again.
Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, two veteran journalists formerly of the Washington Post and Politico and now at Axios, dissected the whole spectacle.
"Here's what it was: A sad, epic meltdown – a troubled Trump flunky, pecked at and picked apart like roadkill on the Russia Interstate, in his last gasps of public fame and shame." And the pair wrote that "one of Nunberg's friends was furious, telling Axios that the anchors were knowingly taking advantage of an obviously fragile man."
"'What the hell is wrong with you people? ... Shame on you. This isn't news,'" the friend told them.
And so, it was all very sad. The networks – desperate for any dirt on Trump, from anyone! – put someone on their air repeatedly who they knew, or should have known, was, as his friend said, an "obviously fragile man."
Which prompted Allen and VandeHei to conclude: "This is one of the reasons America hates the media. Our entire industry lit itself on fire because a troubled Trump hanger-on made an ass of himself – live."