President-Elect Donald Trump’s news conference had only been over for a few minutes when an email arrived from one of my bosses, asking me to write a story about the clash between the next President and the press.
“I’d really like to read your take,” the email said.
My basic take would be this – President-Elect Trump obviously won the day over the press, using a familiar strategy to go after the news media – helped along by press stories about him.
Let’s take a look at what went on:
1. Trump on message as he blasts the press. Events could not have worked out much better for the President-Elect, as he was able to channel some of his personal outrage about reports on a supposed intelligence dossier that detailed some questionable stories about Trump and Russia. “Fake news,” he said flatly. “It’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff,” Mr. Trump said at a different point, as his future White House Press Secretary and next Vice President ripped the press as well. For Trump supporters on Wednesday, it could not have worked out any better.
2. Trump vs. Acosta. Caught in the Trump cross hairs at one point was CNN reporter Jim Acosta, who has spent many months covering the Trump campaign. As Acosta tried to get recognized for a question, the President-Elect made very clear that Acosta was not going to get that privilege. “Your organization is terrible,” Mr. Trump said of CNN at first, as Acosta argued that Trump had been wrongly attacking his news organization. “Quiet. Quiet,” the President-Elect said, Acosta kept trying to ask a question. “Don’t be rude,” Mr. Trump added. Then he lowered the boom. “You are fake news.”
3. The press takes a lot of flak. As one might expect, in the aftermath of the Trump vs Acosta dustup, the social media response to CNN – and other members of the news media – was not especially pretty. “The press had a petulant attitude,” one of my listeners told me. “You can’t deny the fact that tons of news organizations have lost their credibility,” wrote another. “CNN putting the nail in their coffin,” added one more. During the campaign, the crowds at Trump rallies often chanted “CNN sucks!” My news media colleagues need to realize that much of America could care less about the press.
4. Trump versus the press is going to be a regular dynamic. At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the President-Elect likes to score points against the press, and will whenever he has the chance. He did it on a regular basis on the campaign trail, and has continued after the elections. “Very dishonest,” he likes to say about the news media. Mr. Trump is a very different type of politician to cover, and the national press corps continues to struggle with how best to cover Trump’s rise. I guess my thoughts for other reporters would be, get used to it. Trump and his aides are going to hit the press every chance they get, and today was a hanging curve ball right over the plate.
5. Trump’s reason for no press conferences. If President-Elect Donald Trump doesn’t want to have press conferences, that’s certainly his choice to make. I still think he dominates that type of event. But we did chuckle up in the press gallery when Mr. Trump said he stopped holding news conferences during the 2016 campaign because of “inaccurate news,” which seemed to be an effort to play off the “fake news” charge against the news media from today. There is no doubt that Mr. Trump can certainly hold his own with reporters – and some of his supporters saw an opportunity in settings like today’s news conference.
6. The media is not well organized. What works against the press corps – and I have seen it for years – is that we are not one news media company. Every reporter who showed up at Trump Tower on Wednesday had a different personal game plan for what they would ask if given the chance. Each reporter has different goals and different reasons to ask a certain question (or questions) and to push for certain answers. We might be seen by people as “one team” – but we aren’t. And that means while the person holding the news conference can have a strategy for answering questions, the press corps is all over the lot, and often judged to be unfocused. And it doesn’t help them in a high profile situation like this. It’s Advantage Trump.
7. What about CNN and the story on what Trump was told? As mentioned above, not only did the President-Elect seem to revel in his spat with CNN reporter Jim Acosta, but other Trump aides also laid it on thick against CNN. What did they report? They did not release the dossier – that was Buzzfeed. What CNN reported – along with other news organizations – was that Mr. Trump was told by U.S. Intelligence officials last week that Russia had been gathering intelligence to possibly use against him, using this intelligence dossier as one prime piece of evidence. In a statement issued on Wednesday night, the Director of National Intelligence said he had spoken with Mr. Trump about that, saying “part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.” To some, it seemed that DNI James Clapper was indicating that CNN had been correct in its reporting.
Regardless, the bottom line in this spat still seemed to favor the President-Elect.
As Gabriel Sherman of New York Magazine said in a tweet – “Results from today: Trump 1 Media 0.”
Can’t argue with that.