Contrast Donald Trump‘s most recent interview, posted today in GQ, with the conference call convened this morning by reps from ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC, trying to figure out how to respond to Trump after some journalist-penning action by his campaign last week.
The call–the first of apparently at least two, because the participating networks couldn’t agree on a response–was prompted by a fracas between CNN producer Noah Gray and Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski at a rally last Wednesday. After Gray left the confines of the designated area the campaign had set aside for journalists, in order to interview rally participants, Lewandowski threatened to “blacklist” Gray from the campaign.
While that was, ostensibly, the precipitating event, it was not the only one, a tipping point rather than a one-off outrage. Paul Farhi offers a list of recent attempts to keep reporters in check.
But the showdowns go back farther than that, lest you forget the Trump vs. Roger Ailes rounds after Trump insulted Megyn Kelly following the first Republican debate. That ended with the Fox News chairman unable to resist the draw of Trump ratings.
Does anyone think this latest attempt to draw concessions from the Trump campaign in its treatment of journalists will play out any differently? Chris Heath points out in his GQ interview, as have others before him, how Trump likes to remind journalists he meets of the insatiable hunger for coverage he has engendered:
Throughout a year in which he has had some strange and deep effect on American politics, he has done a number of interviews here at his desk on the twenty-sixth floor of Trump Tower, Central Park stretching out in the distance behind him. Many of these encounters relay the same Trumpian idiosyncrasies—the way he always has impressive hot-off-the-press poll data to share, for instance, or the pleasure he takes in showing off the packed wall of Donald Trump magazine covers going back over 30 years (“cheaper than wallpaper,” he told 60 Minutes), or the hyperbolic descriptions of his lifetime achievements.
And there’s this exchange, which says a lot about what Trump expects from his relationship with media:
Obviously another issue that some people have taken—
[interrupts] Did anybody ever say anything positive about me? This is not looking… This is not looking good. So far I haven’t been asked one positive question. But that’s okay. Whatever. Whatever. [exhales loudly through pursed lips]
People expect you to be asked tough questions, and you’re certainly up to answering them.
Sure I am, but, I mean, you know, so far, in all fairness, you’ve only asked me, like, really negative questions. Wow. I’m saying, this article’s going to be a disaster. [Ms. Hicks: “I think we deserve the cover just for tolerating these questions.”] It’s all right. Whatever.
Trump expects the press to play by his rules, and the feedback loop reinforces his expectations. When it doesn’t, he retaliates. And with its Trump obsession laid bare, including by Trump himself, what bargaining chips does the media hold?