Donald Trump met with the New York Times Tuesday, but not without a quick round of will-he-or-won’t-he show up.
Trump, who was scheduled to meet with editors and reporters at the Times, decided at the last minute to cancel his visit, only to un-cancel it within hours. Trump’s original complaint: The New York Times had tried to change the terms of the meeting.
I cancelled today's meeting with the failing @nytimes when the terms and conditions of the meeting were changed at the last moment. Not nice— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2016
The New York Times denied this — it didn’t know the meeting was canceled until reading Trump’s tweets. Trump pressed on, however, suggesting that perhaps there would be another meeting at a later date.
Perhaps a new meeting will be set up with the @nytimes. In the meantime they continue to cover me inaccurately and with a nasty tone!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2016
The mini dispute was resolved before noon. Trump showed up and started the meeting with some complaints about the Times’s reporting. Of the whole back and forth over the meeting, the Times reported, “Three people with knowledge of Mr. Trump’s initial decision to cancel the meeting said that Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, had been among those urging the president-elect to cancel it, because he would face questions he might not be prepared to answer. It was Mr. Priebus who relayed to Mr. Trump, erroneously, that The Times had changed the conditions of the meeting, believing it would result in a cancellation, these people said.”
This latest Trump media tantrum is part of what has proved to be a consistently strained period between the press and the president-elect. Trump has long lambasted the Times for its coverage of him, as he did this morning — resulting in something of a subscription boom following the election. On Monday, he reportedly yelled at a group of broadcast news executives and reporters, including CNN’s Jeff Zucker, in Trump Tower. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway denied those reports.
That Trump still obsesses over his representation in the media shouldn’t be surprising — during the election, he once paused an interview with the Washington Post five times to watch TV news. He has brought newspaper reporters onto the campaign stage to ridicule them. He has called journalists “lightweights” and “liars,” and prophesied the near demise of the Washington Post and the Times. The New York Times isn’t just the New York Times; it’s the “failing New York Times.”
But it is becoming increasingly clear that this will continue through his presidency. The New Yorker’s David Remnick put it concisely: “The President-elect does not care who knows how unforgiving or vain or distracted he is. This is who he is, and this is who will be running the executive branch of the United States government for four years.”
Trump had a weird week with the media — starting with him yelling at broadcast executives and reporters
It’s been a week of meetings with the press. On Monday, it was a private, off-the-record gathering in Trump Tower; Trump invited the most high-powered network executives, reporters, and news anchors from Fox, NBC, CNN, CBS and ABC to join him in New York. Those around the table included Lester Holt, Charlie Rose, George Stephanopoulos, Chuck Todd, Wolf Blitzer, Gayle King, David Muir, and Martha Raddatz.
But according to leaked reports, the meeting wasn’t as cordial as reporters had hoped. The New York Post reported:
“It was like a f−−−ing firing squad,” one source said of the encounter.
“Trump started with [CNN chief] Jeff Zucker and said, ‘I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed,’ ” the source said.
“Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful, dishonest media who got it all wrong.’ He addressed everyone in the room, calling the media dishonest, deceitful liars. He called out Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar, and CNN was [a] network of liars,” the source said.
“Trump didn’t say [NBC reporter] Katy Tur by name, but talked about an NBC female correspondent who got it wrong, then he referred to a horrible network correspondent who cried when Hillary lost who hosted a debate — which was Martha Raddatz, who was also in the room.”
Trump’s “dressing down” of the media was confirmed by other outlets. According to the New Yorker’s Remnick, the participants found the meeting “outrageous”:
The television people thought that they were being summoned to ask questions; Trump has not held a press conference since late July. Instead, they were subjected to a stream of insults and complaints — and not everyone absorbed it with pleasure.
Conway, however, denied reports of a contentious summit. She called the meeting a success, “lively,” and “spirited” on Morning Joe.
But those in attendance didn’t feel the same. Rather, the meeting seemed to be the culmination of months of resentment on the part of Trump, who has been warring with the press this entire election cycle, going back to the first primary debate when he sparked a nine-month feud with Fox’s Megyn Kelly.
Trump has been fighting the press this whole election
During the election, Trump claimed the press was swinging the race to Hillary Clinton. Now that he has won, he is claiming the press is misleading the public to his detriment — using unflattering pictures, and reporting with a “nasty” tone.
Trump used the media to his advantage for much of the election, getting free airtime and dominating the news cycle with bombastic claims and extreme campaign rhetoric. He held press conferences often, at times even tricking the media into indirectly advertising his personal business ventures. And when in disagreement with his portrayal in the mainstream media, he usually turns to his Twitter account.
“Mr. Trump has mastered Twitter in a way no candidate for president ever has, unleashing and redefining its power as a tool of political promotion, distraction, score-settling and attack — and turning a 140-character task that other candidates farm out to young staff members into a centerpiece of his campaign,” Michael Barbaro writes for the New York Times.
Trump has been more reserved since mid-summer — since bringing on what proved to be his final campaign team in Breitbart CEO and campaign chair Stephen Bannon and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. He has not held a press conference for weeks, and has on several occasions ditched his press corps.
But even so, Trump hasn’t refrained from critiquing the media’s portrayal of him. Throughout the campaign, he has cut off access to journalists too critical of the Trump campaign, vowing to never speak to them again (although his desire to be in headlines usually trumps these feuds). He revoked the press credentials of the Washington Post for being “phony” and “dishonest.” He has suggested he would do the same to the New York Times. He has targeted reporters in 140 characters, over and over again.
It has made journalists wary of how dedicated a Trump administration will be to transparent government. (The New York Times even asked him about his commitment to the First Amendment, and Trump said the press would be “happy” about his position.) But it also speaks volumes to Trump’s quickness to lash out against any individual or organization that speaks critically of him.
Trump has been warned about his temperament — but there’s no sign he will change
President Barack Obama has given Trump a not-so-subtle warning about his temperament — that it may not suit him well in the White House.
“Whatever you bring to this office, this office has a habit of magnifying and pointing out, and hopefully you correct for it,” Obama said at a press conference Monday. “There are going to be certain elements to his temperament that are not going to serve him well unless he recognizes them and corrects for them.”
But that doesn’t seem to be having much influence on Trump. According to Vox’s Ezra Klein, there is a good reason for that: “Trump did win, and he did it against all odds, in spite of all predictions, and by doing things everyone told him not to do. Reality has proven him, and his instincts, right.”
Any prospect of Trump being shaped by an establishment administration, ready to rein him in, is dissolving with his Cabinet picks, all Trump loyalists and yes men.
As Remnick writes, it was as apparent in his meeting with network executives as it was during his month-long feuds with reporters during the campaign season:
The over-all impression of the meeting from the attendees I spoke with was that Trump showed no signs of having been sobered or changed by his elevation to the country’s highest office. Rather, said one, “He is the same kind of blustering, bluffing blowhard as he was during the campaign.”
Trump may say he will adhere to the First Amendment, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is demonstrably thin-skinned when it comes to negative news cycles, and he has given no indication that he won’t punch back.