All of a sudden, Donald Trump seems to have become press-shy.
The man who boosted his candidacy during the primaries by seeming to be everywhere at once in the media has given relatively few interviews to national news outlets in recent weeks other than Fox News.
The Republican presidential nominee’s last news conference was on July 27, which means, as of Thursday, he’s gone more than two full months without one.
That’s a far cry from the 275 consecutive days that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, went without a news conference of her own — a fact pointedly noted by Trump’s campaign.
But lately Clinton has almost become what Trump once was. She’s met the press repeatedly on her campaign plane since Labor Day in so-called gaggles — informal Q&A sessions. Clinton has also held several formal news conferences outside her plane since then and given a few TV interviews.
Granted, Trump did emerge from a relative quiescence to do something unprecedented for a major presidential candidate: After the first debate Monday, he visited the “spin” room himself and gave brief, impromptu interviews. That appearance gave his campaign something to crow about, accessibility-wise.
“We didn’t see Hillary Clinton in the spin room Monday night, where Mr. Trump spoke to dozens of national reporters from every outlet,” said Hope Hicks, Trump’s spokeswoman, via email.
She declined to respond to additional questions.
Melania Trump has been even more of a ghost, avoiding the campaign trail and saying nothing in public since her July speech at the Republican National Convention that turned out to have been partially plagiarized from a Michelle Obama speech.
Trump has kept up his once-frantic media appearances with only one network, Fox News Channel. On Wednesday, he phoned in to the “Fox and Friends” morning program. And in the evening he chatted up Bill O’Reilly on “The O’Reilly Factor.” In addition, he is a semiregular guest on Sean Hannity’s prime-time Fox program.
But Trump has all but disappeared from venues he frequently appeared on during the primaries, such as NBC’s Sunday program “Meet the Press” and CNN’s daily “Situation Room.”
“It’s a strategy — he’s looking for the widest berth and the least challenging environment,” said Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor who is now a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University in Washington. “It’s completely different from his flood-the-zone strategy” during the primaries.
Trump benefited from broad media exposure during the primaries because he was competing for attention among 16 other contenders, Sesno pointed out. But the news media is “an imminent threat” during the general election because of the intense focus on just two candidates.
“So, he’s staying away [from it], going only to his adoring crowds and Twitter and Fox,” Sesno said.
Evelyn McDonnell, who directs the journalism program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said Trump’s current media approach may be “a sign of how his campaign is slipping.” She noted, “Trump’s strength is his outspokenness. Obviously, he can still speak out via Twitter and campaign speeches . . . but he’s only speaking to the converted through those outlets, including Fox. And he still needs to convert people.
“The problem, of course, is that too often when he shoots off at the mouth, he shoots himself in the foot. I’m sure that’s what he and his handlers are trying to avoid.”
Trump’s sporadic non-Fox appearances since Labor Day have included a phone interview on CNBC on Sept. 12 and an interview with journalist Sharyl Attkisson on “Full Measure,” a program syndicated by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group. Attkisson’s interview aired Sunday.
He also appeared on NBC News’s “Commander in Chief Forum” on Sept. 7 that also featured an interview with Clinton.
But after giving 16 news conferences through July, Trump has stopped doing them altogether. It was Clinton’s lack of news conferences that prompted Trump’s campaign to release a video last month that asked, “What is she afraid of?”
The Republican National Committee also made an issue of it, sending daily email reminders to reporters about the number of days since Clinton took direct questions from a group of reporters.
Clinton’s campaign takes obvious pleasure in the reversal of roles. “We are all enjoying being on one plane,” campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said by email. “It’s good for the press, and it’s good for us.”
Since Clinton put an end to those RNC emails in early September, she briefly revived some of the press’s antagonism by slipping out of a memorial ceremony on Sept. 11 without notifying her press contingent. It emerged later that day that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia almost three days earlier, a fact kept from reporters.
But Trump drew scathing reviews from journalists for his Sept. 16 event in Washington. After his campaign told reporters that he would make a “major statement” at his new hotel, Trump spent several minutes praising the newly renovated property and then turned the event over to military supporters who spent several more minutes endorsing him.
When Trump took the stage again nearly 30 minutes after the start of the event, he devoted just 36 seconds to a statement that President Obama was born in the United States, thereby reversing his claims of the previous five years.
He then walked off the stage, taking no questions from reporters.