On Monday, Trump hosted the top executives and anchors of the major TV outlets in the country and proceeded to lambaste them. “Instead of striking a harmonious tone to build a rapport after the election, Trump was combative, participants said,” WaPo's Paul Farhi wrote of the meeting. “In a calm and deliberate voice, he told the group sitting around a conference table that they had failed to provide their viewers with fair and accurate coverage, and he told them that they failed to understand him or his appeal to millions of Americans.”
The message was clear: There would be no reconciliation, no coming to an understanding. There would be Trump victorious and defiant. And that's it.
Within 24 hours, Trump was at it again — unleashing tweets that his planned meeting with the top editors and reporters at the New York Times was off because they had changed the rules of the gathering at the last minute. (They hadn't.)
The Times was caught unawares, with a spokeswoman saying they had no advance indication that Trump was unhappy or had called off the sit-down. A detente was eventually reached, and Trump gave an interview to the Times in which he was, largely, gracious.
But the two episodes highlight the deep and unprecedented challenges for the media in trying to cover a President Trump. He simply doesn't play by the same rules as every other person elected to White House in the modern era. (Two prime examples: Trump's ongoing refusal to be covered by a protective pool or to hold a post-election news conference.) He sees his Twitter account as equal to or greater than the homepage of the New York Times or The Washington Post in terms of influence. And he believes that the media is not only fundamentally out of touch with average Americans but also clueless about just how out of touch we are.
Whereas other presidents might occasionally lash the media in public but play much nicer in private, Trump simply believes he doesn't need to play that game. That belief, coupled with his famed unpredictability, makes it a very difficult task to cover his White House using any traditional blueprint.
None of the above is to absolve the media from blame. We did — for the most part — miss how much a chord Trump struck with vast segments of the electorate. The coverage in the days leading up to the election — including in this space — made it look like the only question left to answer on November 8 was how much Clinton would win by.
The problem is that as we continue to try to understand and grapple with why that coverage problem happened, Trump continues to push the boundaries of how a free press can and should cover him.
It puts us in the media in a very, very difficult spot — and ensures that this is going to be a deeply challenging four years for journalism. For that, we had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.