Trump attempt to intimidate the press means an immediate hardening of the lines
I am still angry about Donald Trump’s attempt this week to intimidate an influential segment of the American press — 30 to 40 television executives, anchors and journalists.
But I am taking satisfaction in the knowledge that he made a blunder of immense proportions in throwing down the gauntlet to news organizations two months before he even gets into office.
Those who attended the meeting, and whose views showed up in news accounts of it, have suggested that the networks now plan to give no quarter to the Trump administration, before and after his inauguration on January 20.
“If you want war, we’ll give it to you,” is the way I’ve interpreted the fury of those at the meeting whom the press has quoted without naming them.
As I was reading as many news accounts of the event as I could find, I kept thinking about President Richard Nixon’s team’s attempt to intimidate the press before and after the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s. The anti-press effort included the FBI opening files on selected reporters and editors.
Taking on the press didn’t end well for bully-in-chief Nixon, who resigned the presidency in 1974 rather than face impeachment, or for several of the high-ranking bullies around him, who ended up in prison.
Trump was the one who called Monday’s meeting with the broadcast people, summoning them like a potentate summoning vassals to his castle in the sky at the top of Trump Tower in Manhattan. The broadcasters weren’t told why they had been called in.
Some assumed that since he hadn’t held a press conference for ages, he would answer questions they had — although his team had laid down a ground rule that the proceedings would be off the record. That is, what was said couldn’t be reported.
Others who went to the meeting assumed they would be discussing the access that the Trump administration planned to give the press after his inauguration.
Some news accounts indicate that Trump’s team asked for the meeting to reset relations with the press, which had deteriorated in the early days of 2016 and become worse as his campaign progressed. If the gathering was an attempt at reset, it backfired big-time.
Trump spent 20 minutes berating the press during the meeting, calling out some offenders by name and making it plain by the context of other remarks who additional offenders were.The New York Post’s coverage of what happened was the most devastating.“It was like a bleeping firing squad,” the Post quoted an unnamed meeting attendee as saying.
Trump started the assault, the source said, by telling CNN President Jeff Zucker: “I hate your network. Everyone at CNN is a liar, and you should be ashamed.” Another source told the Post that “Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful, dishonest media who got it all wrong.’”
Trump singled out two women correspondents in his attack, the source said. Although Trump didn’t name them, everyone in the room knew he was referring to Katy Tur of NBC and Martha Raddatz of ABC. The attack on Tur came in the form of identifying her as “an NBC female correspondent who got it wrong,” the Post source said.
The trashing of Raddatz involved a comment about “a horrible network correspondent who cried when Hillary (Clinton) lost,” the source said. When the meeting was over, Trump’s spinmeister, Kellyanne Conway, tried to palm it off as a positive.
“From my own perspective, it’s great to hit the reset button (with the press),” she said. “It was very cordial, very genial. But it was very candid and very honest.” It was clear she was describing a different meeting than the one the Post and a number of other news organizations have described. This is the same Kellyanne Conway, by the way, who threatened Harry Reid after the retiring Democratic congressman ripped into Trump a couple of weeks ago.
Conway warned Reid that he needed to watch what he was saying about Trump — an apparent threat of a libel suit against a public figure that First Amendment experts found outrageous but laughable.
So here we are — two months before Trump’s inauguration — and the bunkers between the press and the president-elect have already been hardened with reinforced concrete. News organizations often shift reporting resources from one area of coverage to a hotter story. I wonder how many journalists the New York Times, the Washington Post and other news organizations are adding to their Trump-administration investigative-reporting teams.
And I keep thinking about Watergate. Curious, I looked up the casualty count from that pitched battle between a U.S. administration and the press. The story that journalists from the Washington Post broke, and that the New York Times piled in on, led to the imprisonment of 48 lower, midlevel and top Nixon-administration officials. And the president resigning in disgrace to prevent a constitutional crisis.
Trump-administration officials need to refresh themselves with the scandal, including the casualty count, before January 20.