The first sentence was gibberish:
He likes the instant gratification of Twitter tirades to prefab statements from his press office.
He likes to prefab? The second sentence got closer to establishing what sort of thing the first sentence had been trying to say:
He prefers improvising at a political rally to earnest policy addresses.
“Improvising at a political rally” wasn’t really parallel to “earnest policy addresses,” but if you stripped both sentences for parts, it would have been possible to make one working, grammatical sentence out of them. Why would you have, though? The audience for this piece was one person, and that one person is something close to functionally illiterate.
Nevertheless, the article was in the New York Times, where it purported to be describing President Donald Trump’s preparations for the State of the Union —“one piece of the presidency that Mr. Trump embraces rather than disrupts, according to more than a half-dozen current and former aides.” The president, Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman reported, was putting in multiple sessions of work on the speech, practicing and polishing it.
They didn’t go so far as to say that Donald Trump had worked harder than other presidents worked on their speeches. But they described, for this president, an unaccustomed diligence:
Mr. Trump does not write out his speech in longhand. But he is unusually involved in different drafts and updates, and he has a familiarity with the changing versions. In 2017, before his first address in front of a joint session of Congress, Mr. Trump grew frustrated when he realized he was reading off an old draft and that the latest revisions had not been incorporated into the text that he had been practicing.
“Why am I here?” he barked at his aides in frustration.
Why were any of us here? There is a brief that can be written on behalf of access journalism, especially for a presidency as tiny and unhinged as this one. Beat reporters make certain tradeoffs in the short term, warming and sweetening the coverage, so that they can still be there to get cold crucial facts later on. There are sure to be eventful months ahead; therefore, the non-event of the president discharging a minimal but not abnormal version of his duties was a chance to portray a commanding, engaged leader.
So what if the piece was worthless to anyone who isn’t Annie Karni or Maggie Haberman or Donald Trump? So what if it was sloppily written and not noticeably edited? So what if it contained shamelessly scripted public-relations blather like this:
“The State of the Union gives the president a unique opportunity to speak directly to the American people prime time and unfiltered by the press or D.C. chattering class,” said Raj Shah, a former White House spokesman. “He can use it to turn the page and speak to the unifying, patriotic and optimistic themes that have worked well for him in previous addresses.”
Or logically fractured non-analysis:
White House officials have previewed a speech that they say will lean into a bipartisan and optimistic vision for the country, even as they have conceded that immigration will be a major theme of the night, and that the speech-writing process has been directed by Mr. Miller, his hard-right adviser.
The contradiction between the idea of bipartisan uplift and Miller’s work to promote race panic and ethnic cleansing would carry forward into the speech itself, and from there into the lives of tens or hundreds of millions of people. But that was still in the future. All that mattered in the moment was that the president was being the president, and the reporters were treating him as the president, where he could see them doing it.