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President Trump's Relationship With The Media Gets Off To A Rocky Start

Jan 23, 2017
Originally published on January 23, 2017 5:56 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk about the new president and the media. President Trump and his advisers certainly are. And NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here to talk about it.

Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So how'd the new White House start off with the press corps?

FOLKENFLIK: What's rockier than rocky? Boulders? What do you want to say...

INSKEEP: Stony?

FOLKENFLIK: It was brutal. They decided, in the first full day of office, both the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and, for that matter, President Trump himself to come out swinging, to hit back at the press for coverage of the crowds at the inauguration, the comparisons with President Obama's first inauguration or with the march in Washington and other cities were odious, those comparisons and that Trump was being disrespected by what they claimed was dishonest coverage.

And by the way, relying on assertions in the Press Secretary Sean Spicer's account that were disprovable before he even uttered them - that is, a series of factual claims that were disproved by the nation's top media organizations, you know, within moments.

INSKEEP: And you can just look at the photos of the inaugural crowd size. It was a big crowd. There was a bigger crowd at the Obama inauguration and some other events, end of story. And it's a ridiculous discussion, as Chris Wallace of Fox News called it over the weekend.

FOLKENFLIK: End of story and it shouldn't be a story. It should be a sentence somewhere. Instead, this is what the president and his top aides really decided to make part of their rhetoric and refused to yield any ground. There was a single, perhaps, acknowledgment from Donald Trump's own Twitter account that dissent and protest is part of the American experience. But other than that, really a rejection of the idea that the press has the ability to cover things in a way different from what the administration would want.

Sean Spicer ended his very angry press briefing by saying, you know, we're going to hold you guys accountable, then didn't take questions. That's really a bravura performance if you want to indicate the degree of anger at what is seen as part of the workings of democracy.

INSKEEP: And the next morning, the presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway was on NBC's "Meet The Press." Chuck Todd, the host, asked why Sean Spicer, the press secretary, would utter, quote, "provable falsehoods," and Conway replied this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Chuck, I mean, if we're going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms, I think we're going to have to rethink our relationship here.

INSKEEP: Rethink our relationship?

FOLKENFLIK: Right. So there's a rebuke that carries an implied threat - that the White House was already toying with the idea of moving reporters out of the White House for briefings and some lingering idea that they would bring in a lot of other nontraditional - perhaps more Trump-friendly - press. But also, she went on to say that Sean Spicer was offering alternative facts. He wasn't offering different facts that he thought would shed different kind of light on things. He was offering items of information that weren't true and were disprovable in many cases. And that's more of an alternative reality than alternative fact.

INSKEEP: Does this matter, David Folkenflik? There are far more serious things that this administration had promised to be doing at the very beginning of the administration, involving health care, security, ethics, trade, on and on.

FOLKENFLIK: On one hand, it is trivial, as a lot of people have said. I think the rhetoric matters because it's serving to undercut the role that the press plays, perhaps undercutting the media's credibility with at least the most loyal part of Mr. Trump's base should exposes come forward, investigations get launched by news organizations - the hope it'd undermine that.

I think also there's the question of what to believe. Little more than a decade ago, Scott McClellan had to resign as President George W. Bush's press secretary some months after it became clear he had misled reporters - unwittingly but nonetheless - about actions of senior White House officials.

And this really is chipping away at the credibility of senior White House officials from day one with the press. The question is whether or not Trump can maintain his credibility with more than his most ardent followers. A few - and his top aides are going to offer statements that are so immediately disprovable about matters minor, like this, or more consequential in the months ahead.

INSKEEP: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

David, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.