Before Trump's about-face, the Times counter claimed that it “did not change the ground rules at all and made no attempt to” and said in a statement that it was Trump's team that tried to alter the parameters. The Times said the original arrangement included a brief off-the-record session and a longer on-the-record conversation with reporters and columnists. Trump wanted the entire meeting to be off the record, according to the newspaper.
“We were unaware that the meeting was canceled until we saw the president-elect's tweet this morning,” Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said in an early-morning statement.
Confusion and lack of communication ruled the morning. The Times's Nick Corasaniti happened to be the Trump pool reporter on Tuesday, responsible for feeding information from Trump Tower to other news outlets. At 9:35 a.m., he emailed fellow journalists to say that Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks had just casually mentioned that "we are going to the New York Times" meeting — as if nothing had happened.
Corasaniti added that he "has asked for clarification from Hicks and a NYT spokesperson as to whether the meeting is back on." Even the Times reporter at Trump Tower did not know what was going on.
About 15 minutes later, Murphy said in a statement that "the president-elect's meeting with the Times is on again. He will meet with our publisher off the record, and that session will be followed by an on-the-record meeting with our journalists and editorial columnists."
During the period in which the meeting was off, Trump piled on the insults.
Trump's tweet appears to refer to a Nov. 19 article by the Times's public editor, Liz Spayd, who didn't actually announce that complaints are at a 15-year high. Spayd reported that the influx of letters to the editor since Election Day is “one of the largest since [9/11]” and that while many letter writers “are commenting on the election,” many others “are venting about the Times's coverage.”
(Spayd was a managing editor for The Washington Post.)
As he has in other Times-bashing tweets, Trump stretched the truth to fit his narrative that readers are abandoning the “failing” newspaper.
Trump's initial decision to nix Tuesday's meeting with the Times followed Monday's summit at Trump Tower with TV news executives and anchors. That gathering was entirely off the record, although leaked accounts of the conversation depict a somewhat tense session in which the incoming president aired grievances about campaign coverage.
“I have a different view of the meeting,” Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said on MSNBC on Tuesday morning, shortly after her boss ripped the New York Times. “I actually thought it was a very lively, spirited exchange. From my perspective, it's very simple: President Trump and the media have to share joint custody of the nation and its people for the next four or eight years, so it is highly productive and in everyone's interest to find a way to do that.”
Conway's sentiment makes perfect sense, but she and Trump are not on the same wavelength. Although Conway was talking about finding a way to work with the media, Trump was lashing out at the Times via Twitter and refusing to meet with the paper's journalists.
Meanwhile, Trump still has not agreed to a protective press pool, despite the efforts of his spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, to reassure reporters that such access is coming.
Right now, Trump's aides are saying all the right things to the media, but Trump himself isn't — and his actions are saying something entirely different.