With Frank Sesno subbing in for new father Brian Stelter, Sunday’s Reliable Sources turned to an ongoing subject that received renewed focus during President Trump’s first foreign trip: the Trump administration’s aversion to the press. Needless to say, the word “unprecedented” made an appearance to describe the fact that the president declined to hold a news conference during his trip.
In fact, as Sesno pointed out, in 25 public appearances, the president took five questions but only answered two of them for a combined total response time of 29 seconds.
“We actually hunted around to see if we could find a previous trip by any president of either party and we really couldn’t,” said NPR svp of news and editorial director Michael Oreskes of this very press-avoidant trip. “This is quite unusual. You’ve got to ask yourself the question of whether it’s even serving his interests. It certainly doesn’t seem to be serving the public interest in terms of understanding the president’s views and positions.”
April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, agreed. “It is unheard of to go overseas for nine days with a president of the United States and have the press corps there–they’re the first line of questioning an American president–and not take formal questions, or even really engage in these Q&As during pool sprays.”
Ryan said the reluctance to engage is owed to the president’s team still trying to figure out how to engage, “but the question is,” says Ryan, “what will the public do? Because if the public cries out, things can change.”
And Politico White House correspondent Tara Palmeri pointed out that his internal dealings with members of his communications team have been equally opaque. “Trump really kept his press aides in the dark,” she said. Comparing Trump’s behavior with EU officials, she said, “I saw in the meeting with EU council president Donald Tusk and EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, they had their spokespeople with them; President Trump did not have a single person from the press office in the meeting with him. So, after the meeting the first people to get the word out on what happened were the European Commission and the European Council. We waited more than four hours to get any details, not even background, on what went down in that meeting.”
“Presidents of both parties have agreed on two things,” said Oreskes. “One is that a free and independent press is a royal pain. And the other is that it’s an absolute necessity for a free and independent country. The best statement ever made about this was actually made by a Republican president on an international trip, and that was by Ronald Reagan when he spoke at Moscow State University about the power of American democracy, and he described the importance to freedom in America of the cacophony of independent news organizations, independently owned, independently run, and how that made this a freer country and how it protected the rights of individual Americans.”
“It’s not about the press,” said Ryan. “And yes, the president doesn’t like us, he calls us fake news all day long. That’s fine. But the issue is, is that we’re independent, and we’re independent of the White House, and when you don’t give the information, who suffers? The American people, because they don’t know what’s going on from the man that they elected. That’s what’s at stake.”
Watch the full segment below: