Media critic

Longtime media writer Michael Wolff interviewed White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday at the Newseum event #TrumpandthePress. In noteworthy ironies, Conway lectured the crowd about TV pundits who “literally say things that are just not true.”

Michael Wolff: The New York Times, it seems to me, has a virtual beat. And in that beat, which often merits a front-page story, the beat is that President Trump is an aberrant president. And this beat, I would argue, is sort of largely owned by Maggie Haberman. And I know the president’s views of Maggie Haberman, and yet, why does he speak to her?

Kellyanne Conway: What do you mean his views of her?

Wolff: Well, I mean his views of her, is he doesn’t like her. I’ve heard this.

Conway: Why would you say that?

Wolff: Well, because he’s told me.

Conway: Michael, I just have to push back, that’s just not true. I think it’s inappropriate to say who or who the president does not like, respectfully, and you’ve just made my entire point about how he’s covered like he’s the guy sitting next to you on the bus. He’s the president of the United States and he obviously respects her because he gave her an interview last week.

Wolff: Well, that’s what I’m asking.

Conway: She’s one of two journalists he called right after the health-care bill [inaudible].

Wolff: Totally, and I’m wondering why. She literally writes — you can’t not follow what she says and not conclude — literally, it’s a beat, the aberrant presidency of Donald Trump, a New York Times beat. She’s the writer on that beat. I know what the president thinks on this, I know what he’s said about her, and yet he reaches out to her so I’m just wondering what — I mean, maybe that’s a good thing. You can say, you know, you reach out to people —

Conway: Certainly it undercuts the ongoing premise that he’s not giving access to the press. … He does. … But I just have to back up because you mentioned somebody by name who I regard as a very hard-working, honest journalist who happens to be a very good person … a mom of three who works hard who seems ubiquitous in print and on TV and, I think, just had a really nice profile written about her.

Takeaways:

1) Wolff seems irregularly irked by Haberman’s access.

2) Wolff appears to have failed to run a byline search in Nexis for “Maggie Haberman.” The number of instances in which she works under a solo byline is tiny compared to the frequency with which she partners with fellows like Glenn Thrush and Peter Baker and Charlie Savage and Julie Davis and David Sanger and Jennifer Steinhauer. Examining the broad sweep of coverage, it’s clear that the Times does the White House as a team project. Why isolate Haberman?

3) Wolff appears to have forgotten that Haberman has covered Trump for years.

4) Wolff is trying to attribute a stark rationality to Trump’s decisions about media interviews. They defy such. Sure, he does the softie stuff, like the interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business that aired Wednesday. He has also compiled a record of taking on tougher journalists. Example: Time magazine ran a story under the headline, “Can President Trump Handle the Truth?” Given Trump’s documented mendacity, an observer might suppose he’d stiff-arm interview requests for such a piece. But no. “There was a reason he got on the phone with me,” Time’s Michael Sherer said in an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog. The president felt that the media “was not fully appreciating, giving him credit for all the things he’d gotten right.” For a list of such things, consult the Trump-Scherer interview.

5) Wolff appears to consider Trump a reliable source. Maybe he hasn’t gotten the message that reporting any tidbit from this White House requires at least nine sources.

6) A top Trump aide went way out of her way to defend a reporter from the New York Times. Maybe it’s just the rest of the staff that fails all the time.