President Trump made a remarkable comment in an interview Thursday morning, suggesting that NFL players who sought to protest during the national anthem “shouldn’t be playing — you shouldn’t be there.”
“Maybe,” he added, “they shouldn’t be in the country.”
That comment prompts a number of natural questions. Does Trump take a love-it-or-leave-it approach to American citizenship? Does he not see protest as a central component of citizenship? Is there no space for opposition to aspects of American society and culture?
Trump’s interviewer, though, took another tack.
“Do you feel like you pushed this story forward and you pushed this to a conclusion?” asked Brian Kilmeade of “Fox & Friends.”
During Trump’s last major interview — also with “Fox & Friends,” last month — he singled out Fox News’s coverage as the ideal of what he would like to see.
“The people have to understand how dishonest the news is,” he said. “And in all fairness to Fox, you guys don’t always treat me great, but you treat me fairly. You know, it’s not like Fox is perfect for me. They’re not — they’re tough, but at least it’s fair.”
Fox is not perfect for Trump, it’s true, but there’s clearly a reason that he has granted more interviews to that network than any other. How much more? Here’s the count by CBS’s Mark Knoller.
The Trump database at Factba.se has slightly different numbers, but the broader point is still accurate. The large purple dots below are interviews on the main broadcast networks or cable news networks such as MSNBC or CNN. There are none of those, though, just that one CNBC interview noted by Knoller. (It’s the large purple dot that is furthest to the right on the chart.) The large red dots are interviews given to Fox News.
The smaller dots are other interviews, Trump’s conversations with conservative outlets such as the Christian Broadcasting Network or the Washington Examiner or conversations with The Washington Post and outlets such as the Financial Times. He does more of those than cable news interviews, as The Post’s fact-checking team noted Thursday morning.
It’s important to note, though, that Trump’s interviews with Fox News are often not with journalists willing to challenge him. He has done eight interviews with “Fox & Friends” or its hosts and four with Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, two of his staunchest allies in the media.
That’s paired with Trump’s historical aversion to news conferences. Since the end of the Democratic convention in 2016, when he held a news conference at which he asked Russia to release emails it might have stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, Trump has conducted two full, solo news conferences.
By this point in President Barack Obama’s first term, he had held 13.
Trump has done more joint news conferences than Obama did, but those are limited in scope, generally encompassing no more than two questions from American media outlets. Full news conferences, on the other hand, involve the president fielding any number of questions from various outlets, including follow-up questions of the kind that Kilmeade skipped.
The most recent full news conference Trump held was in February 2017, within his first month in office, 462 days ago as of writing. Before the tax bill was passed. Before the health-care overhaul failed. Before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed or FBI Director James Comey was fired. Before Trump ever tweeted about a “WITCH HUNT” as president.
He has spoken to the press since, of course, in those joint news conferences and in informal gaggles on his way in or out of the White House, among other places, but no formal news conferences in which the media can prepare a set of organized questions and seek out responses from the most powerful man in the world.
There’s no indication Trump actually wants that. Earlier this month, he explicitly said that his excoriations of “fake news” were simply targeting news reporting that is critical of him. He has called “fake news media” America’s enemy, meaning that critical coverage is, in essence, unpatriotic. “Fair” coverage looks like what he gets on Fox News.
This approach to the media raises a lot of questions — but opportunities to get answers from Trump have been rather hard to come by.