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Interviewing President Trump is ‘meaningless,’ NYU’s Jay Rosen says

White House reporters are failing when they treat Trump like a normal president, Rosen argues on Recode Media.

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President Donald Trump Olivier Douliery-Pool / Getty Images

The last time NYU professor Jay Rosen visited Recode Media with Peter Kafka, shortly before Donald Trump’s inauguration, he said journalists should stop interviewing Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway because her answers created more confusion than clarity.

Over the past year, Rosen says, we’ve learned that the same is true of President Trump himself.

“The whole purpose of interviewing a sitting president is that you can find out about their thinking, you can illuminate their policy choices, you can dig a little deeper into what they plan to do,” he said on the latest episode of Recode Media. “That assumes that the president has policy ideas.”

“In an interview situation, he’s just saying what — at the moment — makes him feel like the best, the biggest, the greatest, the brightest, the richest, the most potent,” Rosen added. “He’s just saying whatever comes to his mind as the most spectacular boast he can think of. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about his policies.”

This week, we put together a special two-in-one show about the media’s relationship with Trump: In the first half, Kafka interviews Rosen; in the second half, he talks to CNN’s Oliver Darcy and BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel. You can listen to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcastor wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Rosen said the continuing willingness of White House reporters to sit down with Trump for unilluminating interviews speaks to a fundamental problem with how they do their jobs. They’re wedded to “conventions and rituals,” he explained, even when it’s clear that Trump is not a normal president who respects or is confined by those same rituals.

“A simple example would be, the press keeps fighting for access because that’s what the White House press corps does,” Rosen said. “The White House press corps is very tenacious in protecting its place in the White House, its workspace, as well as rituals like the daily briefing and access to the president.”

“But we know now that access to the president or access to Sarah Sanders isn’t actually informing us,” he added. “In many ways, it’s disinforming us.”

The same philosophy also explains why CNN invited White House senior adviser Stephen Miller to Jake Tapper’s show, which Rosen correctly predicted would blow up. Partly, he said, CNN wants an entertaining show — but it’s also about appearances.

“CNN wants to be able to say, ‘We’re inviting the administration,’” Rosen said. “They want to be seen as open to the message of the White House. They want to think of themselves as, ‘We hear from both sides.’ It’s very important to them to maintain that atmosphere of fair-mindedness and ‘both sides get the microphone.’ They are committed to that, whether it’s working or not.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers all of the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcastor wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And finally, Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, such as the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Peter. Tune in next Thursday for another episode of Recode Media!

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