Did Donald Trump and his media savvy staff purposely set up CNN and the rest of the adversarial White House press corps during this week’s press conferences? And more important, are we seeing signs of the tactics Trump and Steve Bannon are planning to use against what he refers to as the “opposition party?”
I think the answer is a resounding yes.
During the president’s appearance on Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump called on friendly reporters and ignored CNN, the New York Times, and other reliably left-wing outlets that have tried to pass themselves off as “mainstream.” At the pressers with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, he did the same.
Predictably, media talking heads on the networks and certain cable channels have been whining and complaining that Trump won’t allow “tough” questions from legitimate national media. Jim Acosta, CNN’s senior White House correspondent, imperiously intoned that “the fix is in.”
The White House announced Thursday morning that Trump would hold a press briefing to announce his new pick for secretary of labor, following CKE Enterprises CEO Andy Puzder’s decision to withdraw his nomination earlier this week. Anticipating fireworks and questions about Puzder’s exit, and the ongoing hysteria over Michael Flynn and the Russians, all the cable networks and quite a few radio and TV stations decided to carry the event live. Even Rush Limbaugh aired the conference in progress (something he usually avoids doing).
After a nice introduction of his new nominee for Labor (Alexander Acosta who was conspicuously absent), Trump listed a litany of the successes of his first month, emphasizing the accomplishments of his administration (“a fine tuned machine,”) despite the obstruction of the Senate Democrats and, of course, the relentlessly negative press.
And then, unlike in the three most recent press availabilities, Trump went directly to those he describes as “hating” him for questions.
Jim Acosta walked right into the trap. Remember, Acosta recently said:
This president does not want to answer critical questions about his associates, his aides’ contacts with the Russians during the course of that campaign, just as his national security adviser is being run out of this White House on a rail… They may think this is being cute, or they think this is strategic in terms of trying to shield the president from questions, but those questions can only be shielded for so long.”
After asking Trump to compare the Wikileaks revelations to the Intelligence Community’s leaks about Flynn, Trump skillfully maneuvered the conversation back to how badly the press reports information.
“I see many untruthful things,” Trump said. “I see tone, such hatred.” Then he added, “You’d be better off…by being different.”
He predicted how the media and CNN in particular would report this: “Donald Trump rants and raves, even though I’m having a good time here.” (Sure enough, reporters in the room described the press conference as “insane.”)
Acosta jumped to his feet and Trump, like a cat playing with a mouse, asked the room if he should let him have another shot. And then Acosta rolled over and took the bait.
“When you’re attacking our network,” Acosta asked, “doesn’t that undermine the people’s faith in the First Amendment, freedom of the press… aren’t you undermining confidence in the media?”
Trump then delivered the kill shot, “I want to see an honest press, it’s so important for the public to have an honest press. Listen: the public doesn’t believe you anymore!”
And that, dear friends, was the purpose of Wednesday’s press conference. Trump was able to redirect everyone’s attention on the media’s dishonesty, their focus (on themselves) and also galvanize his supporters ahead of what is purported to be a yuge sold-out rally tomorrow in Melbourne, Florida.
They underestimate Trump. A lot. They were played today and my guess is they still don’t understand how. It was brilliant. And it was a pleasure to watch a master handle the childish press with such ease.