Switching to an off-the-record footing on an Air Force One flight doesn’t distance Trump from predecessors. President Barack Obama did the same thing. And an aide to President Bill Clinton stipulated that one of his Air Force One bull sessions with journalists proceed on “psych-background.” Trump will take some questions from the media during an appearance with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Yet there can be no equivalence here. Trump has gone four months without a formal solo news conference, while dispersing thoughts about the “fake news” media being the “enemy” of the people; his aides have crippled the White House press briefing by banning cameras and prohibiting real-time audio; he and his people continue attempting to discredit the news media, yet love to cite it when the news is good; and Republican operatives are reportedly contemplating another level of anti-media operations.
So why would Trump while away 70 minutes with this hateful crowd? Because, in the words of a former tabloid reporter who covered Trump, chatting with media types “offer[s] so many opportunities for him to gaze at the person he loves most.”
And it appears that Trump enjoyed his own remarks enough to wonder why they weren’t being published. A pool report from Maggie Haberman of the New York Times — who is writing pool reports on Trump’s France visit — raises the question as to whether this is the first time in U.S. history that a president has sought to move off-the-record remarks to an on-the-record basis: “POTUS asked your pooler why she didn’t use what he has said last night. Your pooler reminded him last night was off the record. POTUS asked if I had heard him say it could be on-record; your pooler replied truthfully no (co-poolers also were not under impression it was on-record, since Sarah Sanders had declared it off record).”
Update: Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells the Erik Wemple Blog via email: “The conversation was off the record but we are going to put out excerpts of the conversation.” That’s a strange pledge. Did the White House record the off-the-record session? Isn’t it the job of journalists to publish the interview? And how will the journalists agree to publish only excerpts? That would appear to resemble the much-dreaded practice of quote approval.