Trump’s love-hate relationship with the press
President Trump is skipping the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday and for the second year in a row will instead appear at a political rally, this time in the swing state of Michigan.
The presidential snub underscores Trump’s tense and strained relationship with the media, and will once again lead to split screens on cable news networks, highlighting the friction between the president and the press.
Fights between the White House and the media are nothing new to Washington, but Trump has taken it to another level with complaints about “fake news” and “dishonest” reporters he sometimes dubs “flunkies.”
Trump’s distaste for the media goes beyond the shots on Twitter, at campaign-style rallies and at White House events — where politics are traditionally supposed to remain outside the gates.
The president hasn’t had an official solo press conference — without a foreign leader at his side — since February of last year. His predecessor, former President Obama, held 11 formal news conferences during his first year in office, while former Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton held four and 14, respectively.
Trump has also avoided sitting down with individual reporters since he was interviewed by NBC’s Lester Holt — with the exception of a string of appearances on Fox News.
On Thursday morning, he called into one of his favorite programs, “Fox & Friends.”
While speaking to the three hosts, Trump repeatedly slammed the press but also highlighted another unique feature about his relationship with the media: The president is a cable news fan who watches closely what is said about him.
As he often does, he called CNN “fake news” and then said he doesn’t “watch NBC anymore.”
“They’re as bad as CNN,” he said.
He also claimed he doesn’t watch CNN “at all” but then in the next sentence said he “watched last night” when former FBI Director James Comey appeared at a town hall put on by the cable network.
The comments were played on loop on other cable networks throughout the day with analysts dissecting his every word.
Political observers say both Trump and the media feed off one another, using the other to their own advantage.
“From the start of primaries the media has been obsessed with Trump and vice versa,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a communications professor at Boston University who specializes in political communication. “Both provide oxygen to each other. Ratings gold for the media and a detested target for Trump to rev-up his base.”
“The media is in 24/7 Trump attack mode. Trump is in 24/7 Twitter attack mode,” Berkovitz added. “This is a dysfunctional symbiotic relationship. The war of words and visual images will continue to become more intense. Trump revels in the battle and the media uses its angst about Trump to ride the high horse of saving democracy.”
A Monmouth University poll earlier this month suggested more people trust the networks than Trump.
It found that 48 percent of those surveyed trusted CNN more than the president, with 35 percent saying the opposite. MSNBC topped Trump 45 percent to 32 percent, while Fox News received 30 percent to Trump’s 20 percent.
To be sure, Trump has had moments of civility with the press corps. He has talked to reporters behind the scenes when he feels the need to weigh in.
At times, he has called reporters individually or has invited them to the Oval Office for private one-on-one chats. He has also taken questions from reporters in more casual settings such as Air Force One, as he did earlier this month.
On the presidential plane, he took questions about Stormy Daniels, the porn star who claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump and says she received hush money weeks before the 2016 election.
And while he won’t be making an appearance at the correspondents’ dinner, last month he did attend a smaller white tie affair put on by Washington’s esteemed Gridiron Club, made up of top journalists.
The dinner, largely a roast, provided Trump with moments of levity in his remarks.
“I do want to say this is one of the best times I can ever remember having with the media,” Trump said during his speech. “This might be the most fun I’ve had since watching your faces on election night.”
Reporters don’t expect relations with the president to warm anytime soon and with the Russia investigation looming over the White House, it may continue to worsen.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of public affairs and history at Princeton University, predicted that the relationship will never get better because Trump “thrives on the conflict.”
“It will get worse for sure but if the Russia investigation was not there to fuel it, he would find something else to take its place,” Zelizer said.
While Trump has often kept a distance with the White House press corps, he invited reporters’ children to the Oval Office on Halloween last year. And earlier this week, he took some time to invite their children into the Oval Office for pictures during National Take Your Child to Work Day.
“You know, your parents are being very nice right now, I can’t believe it,” the president said to reporters’ sons and daughters. “You know why? Because they don’t want to embarrass themselves in front of you.”
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