Trump's press feud boils over

Tensions between Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE and the national media burst into the open Tuesday during a heated press conference at Trump Tower. 

Top anchors for major news outlets peppered the presumptive GOP presidential nominee with questions about why it took him more than four months to give veterans groups the money he touted raising in January.

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Some of the reporters accused the businessman of being thin-skinned and said he is seeking to avoid the scrutiny that comes with running for president.

Trump responded in kind, calling a male CNN anchor “a beauty,” referring to an ABC News reporter in the audience as a “sleaze” and vowing to take his war against the press to the White House if he’s elected.

“I’m going to continue to attack the press,” Trump said as the event drew to a close. “I find the press to be dishonest. I find the political press to be extremely dishonest.” 

The atmosphere at the event appeared tense and could signal a turning point in Trump’s conflicted but mutually beneficial relationship with the media. 

The real estate mogul has dominated news coverage during his unlikely rise from political outsider to presumptive nominee. One study found that Trump benefitted from $2 billion in free media exposure during the campaign, which helped him to bury his rivals in the Republican nominating contest.

The blanket press converge is no accident. Trump readily makes himself available for interviews, at times appearing on multiple networks in a single day.

Meanwhile, Trump’s rise has been a ratings and traffic bonanza for media outlets. News organizations have feasted on Trump’s staged events, which have become must-watch television because of his tendency to stir up controversy.

Still, an undercurrent of tension between Trump and the media has long existed.

At rallies, the Trump campaign keeps reporters fenced inside a pen in the back of the room, and the candidate often points at reporters to mock them in front of his supporters.

Veteran Republican strategists, even one who is working with the Trump campaign, say Trump’s relationship with the press is like nothing they’ve seen.

Charlie Black, an adviser to dozens of Republican leaders and now an informal adviser to the Trump campaign, conceded that while GOP presidential candidates have long scored political points by denouncing the press, Trump’s feuds with media figures are of a different magnitude.

"[Richard] Nixon used to get his attack dogs to do it," Black told The Hill, recalling the press-bashing role played by Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew.

Black pointed to Trump's attempt to vilify Fox News host Megyn Kelly — a feud that was recently defused by a sit-down interview — saying that it "probably went further than anything I have seen anybody else do."

Trump has long complained of being slighted by news outlets that did not take his presidential campaign seriously. Now that he has secured the nomination, that initial dismissal is transforming into scrutiny, and the press is seeking to uncover details about his life as a Manhattan playboy, reality TV star and billionaire dealmaker.

The businessman has mused about “opening up” libel laws to make it easier for him to sue news organizations, and he has raised the prospect of an antitrust investigation into the business practices of Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post and Amazon.

Political watchers say the showdown between Trump and the media cuts both ways.

“I imagine Trump supporters will believe the press is full of sleazy reporters, while some moderates or independents could have second thoughts about him because they expect the president to have a judicious temperament,” said Kathleen Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

At Tuesday’s press conference, the media outlets pushed back as a group, refusing to allow Trump to take a victory lap at a staged event in his own building that was scheduled around Memorial Day to draw attention to his donations to veterans groups. 

The showdown could mark the beginning of a more antagonistic relationship between the media and Trump as he moves into the general election campaign. 

Stuart Stevens, a Republican strategist for more than two decades and the chief strategist for GOP nominee Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, said Trump risks going too far with his attacks on the media.

"Trump is completely without any respect for the purpose of the press," Stevens said. 

"Trump understands two things: Submission or defiance. He doesn't understand basic American values."

Still, polls show the public at large has a dim view of the press, making it an easy target. Trump believes he has plenty of ammunition for the fight, often taking issue with the way stories are "couched," as he put it on Tuesday.

A Trump campaign source told The Hill that Trump's attacks on the media are "part of his appeal" in that he "tells it like it is." And when he feels he's being treated unfairly he will hit back. 

The Trump campaign source said the businessman was "frustrated" Tuesday that the media ignored all the good he was doing while taking "a negative approach to every story."

"When he thinks he's being covered fairly, he calls reporters directly and sends handwritten notes congratulating them," added the Trump source, stressing that context is important.