President Trump appears not to suffer at all when the insincerity of his attacks on the media comes into focus, as it did on Wednesday afternoon in a New York news conference. In front of a large room full of domestic and international reporters, the president who bashes the media as “fake news,” as the “enemy of the people” and as “disgusting” made clear just how much he really adores these representatives of rich, cosmopolitan America.
Mark Landler, a reporter with the New York Times, stood up to ask the president a question. Referring to Trump’s oft-repeated mantra of the “failing” New York Times, Landler said, “We’re kind of thriving, not failing.” To that, the president replied, “You’re doing well. Say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Trump.’ ” Landler said he’d stop “short” of that.
Elsewhere, the president made nice with reporters from around the room, saying “thank you” after a tough set of questions, speaking fondly of various press corp members and just generally enjoying himself. “This is quite a gathering,” Trump said in kicking off the rambling affair. “Wow, it’s a lot of people. A lot of media.”
Incoherent responses, bonhomie with the media, frequent interruptions, expressions of defiance, contradictions — all this went on for 80 minutes. As former tabloid scribe Susan Mulcahy wrote before the 2016 election, Trump’s labeling the media as “disgusting” is “the biggest lie of all. I’d argue that his longest and most intimate relationship is with the media, who offer so many opportunities for him to gaze at the person he loves most.”
None of that means that Trump won’t trash the work of the media. He’s always at the ready on that front. On Wednesday afternoon, the showcase was the reporting of the Times during the campaign on his treatment of women. “I was accused by four or five women who got paid a lot of money to make up stories about me. We caught them and the mainstream media refused to put it on television. They refused to even write about it,” said Trump. “I’ve had numerous accusations about me. They made false statements about me knowing that they were false. … They took money in order to say bad things. I’ve had stories written in the New York Times — front page — about four women — the whole top center front page of the New York Times. … I said, ‘Wow, that’s a big thing.’ … These were women that were quoted saying bad things about me,” said Trump, who then alleged that the women recanted. “They said the New York Times made it up.”
Now: It is true that one of the women quoted in a May 2016 New York Times story on Trump did complain about the story, to “Fox & Friends“: “Well, they did take quotes from what I said and they put a negative connotation on it. They spun it to where it appeared negative. I did not have a negative experience with Donald Trump. And I don’t appreciate them making it look like that I was saying it was a negative experience, because it was not.” That “experience” involved Trump outfitting Brewer Lane in a bikini and showcasing her at a Mar-a-Lago pool party as a “stunning Trump girl.” People are entitled to their own interpretations.
And as Michael Barbaro, co-author of the 2016 Times story, told CNN just after that story was published, “none of the facts are in dispute.”
In finishing his diatribe against the Times, Trump said, “That’s why people know that a lot of the news is fake and a lot of the people sitting here are fake, but 20 percent are wonderful, okay.”
All of that came before a couple of other interesting things happened: Trump pledged not to use the name “NAFTA” anymore, before saying, “Mexico has 25 percent of our auto business now because of NAFTA.” And then a Kurdish journalist in the room requested the opportunity to ask the president a question. He responded, “Yes, please, Mr. Kurd.” The questioner, though, took no offense:
I just spoke with “Mr. Kurd.”— Michael M. Grynbaum (@grynbaum) September 26, 2018
His name is Rahim Rashidi, he works for Kurdistan TV, and he is thrilled.
“I love it!” he said of Trump. “He made me happy by this sentence.”