It was little short of a declaration of war.
The ostensible purpose of the event was to address that fundraiser, particularly the shifting stories and outright falsehoods about it that have come from Trump and his staffers. In recent weeks there have been questions about whether Trump had raised what he claimed, how much of it had actually been distributed, and perhaps most troublingly, the fact that on that night in January Trump said he had given $1 million to veterans’ groups, which was false. When the Post’s David Fahrenthold and other reporters began investigating where the money had gone, they found no evidence that Trump had given $1 million to any veterans’ group. Then last Monday — four months after he claimed to have given his donation and only after reporters’ questions had become more frequent and pressing — Trump finally called the head of a veterans’ group to tell him the group would be getting a $1 million donation from him.
When Fahrenthold asked Trump whether he had given the money only because he was getting questions from reporters about it — a perfectly reasonable question to ask — Trump replied, “You know, you’re a nasty guy. You’re a really nasty guy.” That was a preview of what happened today.
In this press conference, Trump was as ridiculous as ever — he must have claimed “I didn’t want the credit” for raising money for veterans at least a dozen times, which is sort of like Kim Kardashian saying “I really don’t want to be famous.” But he spent most of his time attacking the media.
We should understand that Trump is hardly alone among politicians in disliking the media or thinking that his coverage isn’t what it should be. Where he differs is in the other things he believes. Trump thinks he literally deserves a constant stream of praise and kudos from reporters. He thinks that any challenging question from a reporter is not just inappropriate and unfair but evidence that the reporter is a terrible person. He thinks that it’s reasonable for a presidential nominee to look a reporter in the face, point at him, and say “You’re a sleaze,” for no reason other than that the reporter asked a question premised on something other than the idea that Donald Trump is a spectacular human being everyone should constantly be applauding.
“The press should be ashamed of themselves,” he said. Reporters “are not good people,” he said. “The political press is among the most dishonest people that I’ve ever met,” he said. “The press is so dishonest and so unfair,” he said, without identifying a single thing anyone in the media said on this topic that wasn’t true. When ABC News reporter Tom Llamas asked Trump about his well-known penchant for exaggeration, Trump said, “What I don’t want is when I raise millions of dollars, have people say, like this sleazy guy right over here from ABC. He’s a sleaze in my book.” When Llamas asked why, Trump responded, “You’re a sleaze because you know the facts and you know the facts well.” And this may have been the most revealing part:
“Instead of being like, ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Trump’ or ‘Trump did a good job,’ everyone’s saying ‘Who got it, who got it, who got it,’ and you make me look very bad. I have never received such bad publicity for doing such a good job.”
He actually believes that it’s the job of political reporters covering a presidential candidate to write “Thank you very much, Mr. Trump.” It’s not the press’ job to discover the truth or ask questions or hold the powerful accountable; their job is to promote him and compliment him. And when he doesn’t get the glowing coverage he wants, he attacks.
I’m trying not to get tired of saying this, but just try to imagine what the reaction would be if Hillary Clinton came out to defend herself against some perfectly reasonable questions, and said “The press should be ashamed of themselves” or pointed to a reporter and said, “You’re a sleaze.” She wouldn’t be criticized or questioned, she’d be crucified. Reporters would ask if she had lost her mind and was having a nervous breakdown. There would be demands for her to pull out of the race immediately, since she had shown herself to be so unstable.
It’s going to be a real challenge for reporters covering Trump to continue to ask the questions they ask of every candidate, to demand answers and to point out falsehoods — which is already a herculean task when it comes to Trump, since he delivers so many of them. That’s not easy to do when you know your subject is going to assault you over it. And it’s not likely to change.
“Is this what it’s going to be like covering you if you’re president?” one reporter asked near the end of the press conference.
Trump’s reply: “Yeah, it is. I’m going to continue to attack the press.”