One voice in my head says, “Yep, this sounds like something he would do.” Another voice says, “Yep, this sounds like something his team would claim that he did knowing how well it would play with Republican voters.”
We’ll see what some of the media luminaries who attended have to say about it. I assume the truth is in the middle, that the meeting was mostly a charm offensive by Trump peppered with sporadic cutting remarks about reporters who had treated him “unfairly.”
“It was like a f—ing firing squad,” said one source.
“Trump started with Jeff Zucker and said I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed….
“The meeting was a total disaster. The TV execs and anchors went in there thinking they would be discussing the access they would get to the Trump administration, but instead they got a Trump-style dressing down,” the source added.
Zucker was there, along with the presidents of NBC News, ABC News, Fox News, MSNBC, and assorted anchors and reporters. Said a second source to the Post:
“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 network of liars.
Notably, the Post doesn’t specify whether its sources came from Trump’s side of the table or the media’s. I’m inclined to agree with Patrick Ruffini: “Make no mistake. Every provocation is carefully planned. You can be sure John Barron leaked this.” (“John Barron” is one of the names Trump himself is supposed to have used when he allegedly leaked news of his exploits to the New York gossip sheets years ago.) Which is not to suggest it’s untrue. He might have ranted and raved deliberately, knowing that the attendees themselves will eventually chatter about it anonymously to other media and that rank-and-file right-wingers will swoon over it. It’s great culture-war fodder for both sides, just as the dopey hooting at Mike Pence the other night at “Hamilton” was. For righties, it’s proof that the alpha male will tell the dirtbag media off directly. (On cue, Trump fan Matt Drudge is headlining the Post story, “Trump Slams Media Elite, Face To Face.”) For lefties, it’s proof that the dirtbag authoritarian is going to challenge press freedoms as president.
If you want to see that polarization in graph form, here’s a detail from the new Pew poll that I linked this morning:
A supermajority of Trump fans think the media was too hard on him during the campaign; a near-majority of Clinton voters think the media went too easy on him. Put that together, with disgust for the press on both sides, and you end up with a new high in the number of Americans who graded the media’s election coverage with a “D” or “F.” The previous high was 39 percent in 2008; this year it was 59 percent(!), with 38 percent alone awarding a grade of “F.” Two months ago, in the thick of the campaign, Gallup found that the share of the public that still had a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in mass media had fallen to just 32 percent, easily the lowest number in 20 years. All of which is to say, there’s really no way for Trump to go wrong in picking a fight with the press. Because of that, if the worst fears of Trump skeptics are eventually confirmed and he drifts towards an aggressively authoritarian presidency, that’s probably one of the first places it’ll show up. The right will give him a lot of cover in confronting the press.
I wonder if Trump really believes that yelling at reporters and their bosses will get them to back off of him, though. The left will be “working the refs” from the other side, after all, insisting that the coverage should be more antagonistic the more antagonistically Trump himself behaves. (If he cuts off access to outlets that are critical of him, Trump’s opponents will probably end up calling for them to cut off access to him reciprocally.) The trick for the media will be maintaining a neutral-ish posture, to preserve what’s left of their credibility, when Trump himself will be trying to bait them into antagonism precisely so that he can dismiss meritorious criticism as propaganda by an obviously biased “enemy” or whatever. They’ve got two months to figure it out.
Update: Annnnd here’s a CNN account that makes it sound like the meeting was much more low-key.
But a source in the room said there was “real progress” made with regards to media access to Trump and his administration.
A second participant affirmed this and said the journalists spoke with Trump about the importance of the “press pool,” a small group of journalists that traditionally travels with the president.
Conway said the meeting was “very cordial, candid and honest.”
Interesting that a right-wing tabloid like the Post got the most Trump-friendly version of the encounter while CNN got this.
Update: Kellyanne Conway is disputing the “firing squad” claim. Why she would do that, given how much righties will enjoy the thought, is unclear.
“No, that’s not true at all,” she said on Bloomberg Politics’ ‘With All Due Respect.” “I sat right to his left. He did not explode in anger. By the way, it’s an off-the-record meeting so whoever said that and mischaracterized it should think twice.”
Update: Here’s a new video from Trump on the progress of his transition team. In the old days this would be done at a press conference. In the age of online media, he can avoid the press entirely.