- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
- President Donald Trump opened up to the press four times Thursday in what looked like a victory lap, soundly defeating his critics and opponents both in the media and in politics.
- The New York Times and ProPublica have published credible, damning reports on Trump that represent excellent feats of journalism. But Trump still decidedly controls the narrative.
- Trump now appears to be having fun while acts of great journalism fail to do him any apparent harm.
President Donald Trump opened up to the press four times Thursday in what looked like a victory lap over his defeated critics and opponents both in the media and in politics.
“I think he’s having a lot of fun right now,” the former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett told the Associated Press of Trump’s wild Thursday.
Just over a week after The New York Times dropped an epic feat of journalism examining more than 100,000 documents spanning decades and piecing together a comprehensive indictment of Trump as a tax fraud and a business failure, Trump hosted Kanye West for an expletive-laced soliloquy in the Oval Office that dominated headlines.
Days after ProPublica published a thoroughly well-reported story about shadowy, unethical deals allegedly undertaken by Trump to enrich his casino-magnate friend Sheldon Adelson, Trump called into Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” to deliver a 47-minute interview.
Trump has declared journalists “the enemy of the people,” much to the horror of the press.
But with the ever-quickening news cycle forgetting, if not forgiving, Trump’s past with every new presidential tweet, Trump has proved he doesn’t need journalists and can beat them at their own game.
Trump has become increasingly chatty with reporters, inviting them to watch Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation vote, having New York magazine sit down with him for a bizarre interview at the Resolute Desk, and holding what the news website Axios says have been more press conferences in the past month than in the previous year.
Recently even Fox News, often friendly to Trump, has stopped airing his rallies in full. But the West meeting and a freewheeling 80-minute press conference in September put Trump back in the driver’s seat of his media coverage.
Trump has recent successes to brag about, including Kavanaugh’s confirmation, an impressive number of lower-court judge appointments, and the renegotiation of NAFTA with Mexico and Canada on favorable terms for the US.
Behind those successes lies a mountain of public and media outrages dating back to his first day in office. The travel ban, the transgender military ban, the separation of families at the border, the sympathetic stance toward white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, all spawned round-the-clock outraged superlatives on cable news.
But The Times’ epic 14,000-word tax takedown of Trump didn’t stay in the news for more than a day, and his approval rating has stayed close to 40% throughout his time in office. In fact, it has gone up over the past year:
“It wasn’t the timing of the Trump taxes story, its length, or the fact that it wasn’t cut up into bite-sized pieces that dampened impact,” The Times’ Glenn Thrush tweeted. “The great @ProPublica story on Trump/Abe is getting similar ‘we knew this.’ Trump overload/cynicism is a growing threat to good journalism.”
Trump’s White House didn’t even really bother to deny The Times’ story. It instead conflated The Times’ reporting on Trump’s tax records with the paper’s errant predictions on election night, as if to say it doesn’t matter what The Times thinks or says.
Reports suggesting Trump has exaggerated his wealth and made shady deals have existed for decades – it’s old news.
At the same time, Trump makes news on a daily basis and seems able to steer the news media as he pleases.
On Thursday, after someone accused of sexual assault was confirmed to the Supreme Court, as voter-suppression scandals bubble across the country, as Trump brushed off a suspected state-orchestrated murder of a US-based Saudi critic as not his problem, the big story was a hug from Kanye West.
Perhaps journalists will one day find some mud that sticks to Trump. But given that he was elected president after boasting on tape of sexually assaulting women, it’s hard to imagine what that story could be.