Trump’s media feud enters new era
President-elect Donald Trump and the news media are settling into an uneasy relationship.
Distrust and ill feelings are held on both sides, and no one is predicting the acrimony that characterized the final months of the presidential campaign will disappear.
At the same time, Trump in his Tuesday meeting with reporters and editors at The New York Times offered an olive branch, acknowledging that he’s a longtime reader and pledging a willingness to develop a professional working relationship.
“I would like to turn it around,” Trump said. “I think it would make the job I am doing much easier.”
Trump’s words may do little to assuage the press’s fears.
White House reporters are worried about access to Trump, who didn’t allow reporters on his campaign plane and ditched media staking out Trump Tower last week to have dinner with family at New York’s 21 Club.
The president-elect’s frequent threats to the press have added to a sense that the rules for covering this White House might be different.
“Every incoming president has basic, generally agreed upon rules of the road,” said Joe Lockhart, who served as White House press secretary for President Bill Clinton.
“The Trump team has decided they’ll blow up and the road and build a new one. Where it goes from here will be a test of how far the new president and his team want to push things, and the strength and will of the press to push back.”
Trump’s transition team says it is committed to having a press pool, which allows for a small group of reporters to remain stationed near the president to document his movements. The pool was on hand for the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, and when George W. Bush was on the move on 9/11.
“In order to cover the president-elect, we need to have a pool of reporters present and there when the entire press corps can’t be there,” White House Correspondents’ Association president Jeff Mason said this week on MSNBC. “That’s the purpose of the White House pool, and that’s certainly something the correspondent’s association has pressed for.”
But there are no laws requiring that an administration maintain a press pool or even that news outlets have access to administration officials, the briefing room or White House grounds.
During his primary campaign, Trump blackballed some news outlets from covering his rallies, which were open to the public, because he was unhappy with their coverage of him.
He also singled-out individual reporters for ridicule and would whip up a frenzy against the media at his rallies, where Trump supporters would jeer at the press pen.
Trump has not held a formal press conference — where reporters from a range of media outlets can ask him with questions — since July. The Trump campaign once derided Hillary Clinton for doing the same.
But Trump has little incentive to go through traditional media channels, some experts say.
Facebook and Twitter combine to give him one of the most powerful social media presences in the world.
He has former Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon at his side in the White House, giving him a powerful ally in the massively influential world of right-wing news.
And when Trump releases a straight-to-camera video to announce his 100-day agenda — as he did this week, in lieu of a press conference — it elicits the same volume of coverage as a press conference would.
Trump was lavished with billions of dollars worth of free airtime and exposure during the campaign, irrespective of how he chose to engage.
Press advocates are worried that the president-elect appears to be holding all the cards.
“Over the last 20 to 30 years, each White House has thrown up more obstacles and become more obsessed with controlling their own message,” said Craig Aaron, president of the advocacy group Free Press. “But this is a new apex, and it’s really dangerous. There used to be basic norms. You have to assume anything is possible now.”
Of course, the media will get little sympathy from the public, with a favorable rating sitting at an all-time low in the latest Gallup survey. Only 32 percent of Americans say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the press.
And Trump’s allies believe all of their moves to beat back at what they view as a hopelessly biased liberal media are justified.
They’re fuming over what they see as a press corps that has dropped any pretense of objectivity in covering Trump, and they’re sick of what they view as breathless coverage of frivolous stories, like the “Hamilton” actor who chided Vice President-elect Mike Pence after a performance.
Trump allies are apoplectic over the media’s obsession with the alt-right and the neo-Nazis that gathered in Washington, D.C., over the weekend to pledge fealty to Trump, arguing that Trump has condemned racism repeatedly and has no ties to either group.
By several accounts, there were as many reporters and protesters at the event as there were white nationalists, raising questions about why the event has attracted so much attention.
In an interview on Tuesday, Republican National Committee strategist Sean Spicer exploded at anchor Wolf Blitzer for badgering him on the issue.
“You’ve asked me eight times the same question,” Spicer shouted.
“It’s the news media over and over again,” Spicer said. “But I don’t know how many times he has to answer that question and you figuring out the way and fashion he should do it next. If he gives a speech, should he then write it in the sky in an airplane? At what point is it enough?”