New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt on Friday defended his impromptu interview with President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE against backlash from readers who said he should have pressed the president harder.
“Some readers criticized my approach, saying I should have asked more follow-up questions,” Schmidt wrote in the Times’s “Insider” section. “I believed it was more important to continue to allow the president to speak and let people make their own judgments about his statements.”
Schmidt’s interview with Trump at his Florida golf course made headlines Friday, as it was unplanned and unsupervised.
In the interview, Trump said he had the “absolute right” to do whatever he wants with the Justice Department, and also said that he thought special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE would be “fair” to him in the investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia.
He also repeated 16 times during the interview that there was “no collusion” between the campaign and Russia.
White House officials reportedly did not know about the interview, which was unsupervised and on-the-record, and were caught off guard and frustrated after it was published.
"It is unusual to land an interview with the president, but even more rare for a reporter to get him one-on-one,” Schmidt wrote. “I knew that what I was doing was not going to go over well with the White House press office, which hates being blindsided by the president making news. But for much of the next half-hour, Mr. Trump and I sat alone.”
One fellow journalist raising doubts about Schmidt's approach was Nate Silver, editor of the blog FiveThirtyEight, which was previously under the Times's umbrella. He posted on Twitter that the "argument for asking follow-up questions when you actually get a chance to interview Trump is that he reveals his inner monologue all the time on Twitter anyway."
One argument for asking follow-up questions when you actually get a chance to interview Trump is that he reveals his inner monologue all the time on Twitter anyway. The marginal value of publishing a one-way conversation would be higher if he were more reserved on this forum. https://t.co/ZsdNrI3SQQ— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) December 29, 2017
Schmidt wrote in the piece that in a past interview with Trump, he learned that the president can “jump” from issue to issue and go off on tangents, which is why he did not ask more follow-up questions.
“If you try to interrupt him, he often continues talking,” Schmidt wrote. “Given this, I employed a strategy in which I asked questions about the most pressing issues of his presidency and then allowed him to talk.”
Daniel Dale, the Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star, also rejected Schmidt's argument that he needed to let Trump talk without interruption.
"Interviewers can - and do all the time - politely challenge wildly false claims without derailing the whole interview," he wrote on Twitter.
Very respectfully, I don’t think it’s a choice between “let Trump say anything he wants” and “play prosecutor and interrupt constantly.” Interviewers can - and do all the time - politely challenge wildly false claims without derailing the whole interview. https://t.co/RGSvohQbRd— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) December 29, 2017
— Updated 8:39 p.m.