President-elect Donald Trump has been preparing to run the country by meeting with lawmakers, Cabinet picks, counterterrorism experts — and the media, a sign that he considers coverage of his incoming administration highly important.
During the campaign, Trump often sought to cast the press as irrelevant. Bashing newspapers at a rally in October, he assured supporters that “most of them won't be around for much longer.” Asked in September by talk show host and physician Mehmet Oz if negative stories induce stress, Trump said they might — “if the press mattered.”
But Trump's private post-election sit-downs with various news outlets belie his efforts to project indifference. He cares about his depictions in the media. A lot.
On Monday, Trump met with executives from Univision, the Spanish-language network with which he warred throughout the election. He previously met with executives and anchors from NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and Fox News; New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.; Condé Nast magazine editors; and MSNBC morning show hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
All of the meetings have been off the record, though Trump did submit to an on-the-record interview with Times journalists after huddling with Sulzberger.
The gatherings ostensibly have been aimed at improving strained relations. Trump's battle with Univision began in 2015 when he launched his campaign by accusing Mexico of sending “rapists,” drug dealers and other criminals to the United States. Univision responded by tearing up an agreement to broadcast the Miss Universe pageant, which Trump co-owned at the time.
Trump then sued the network for breach of contract. The sides reached a settlement in February.
In another memorable episode, Trump ejected Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a news conference before allowing him to return and ask questions.
After Monday's meeting, Univision issued the following statement:
We just had a productive meeting with President-elect Donald Trump about issues facing Hispanic and multicultural communities in America. We look forward to working with Mr. Trump and his administration to make our vibrant country even better. Our Univision News team will continue to cover the Trump administration with the rigor that we have brought to the coverage of every administration that preceded it. We approach this task without fear or favor and with one goal only — to ensure our audience is well-informed. Our eyes, ears and minds are wide open.
Trump's summit with English-language networks, held two weeks after the election, was characterized by senior adviser Kellyanne Conway as a “reset.” But attendees who spoke anonymously to other journalists described a contentious atmosphere in which Trump focused on past grievances. The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty compiled this account, at the time:
Trump was highly critical of coverage of him, according to several people familiar with the gathering. Keeping his voice calm and his tone flippant, he told the group sitting around a conference table that they failed to provide their viewers with fair and accurate coverage and told them they failed to understand him or his appeal to millions of Americans.
Trump expressed particular ire at CNN and at several reporters at other cable networks whom he sees as unreasonably antagonistic toward him, though he did not mention them by name.
The people variously described Trump as “combative,” “proud,” and “dismissive” toward the news organizations present. He also shrugged off the need for a constant pool covering him, they said, although he did not delve into specifics.
The next day, Trump visited the Times and complained that the paper had been “the roughest of all” during the campaign. In the days following his victory, Trump had made a habit of using false information to rip the Times on Twitter.
Sulzberger said that he and Trump “had a good, quiet, but useful and well-meaning conversation” in private. And Trump concluded his on-the-record Q&A with Times reporters by calling the newspaper a “great American jewel.”
We know far less about Trump's meeting with Condé Nast; both sides declined to comment afterward. But there was plenty to talk about at that session. The New Yorker's coverage of Trump has been scathing. Vogue Editor Anna Wintour openly supported — and raised money for — Hillary Clinton. And Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter is largely responsible for popularizing the observation that Trump has small hands.
Trump presumably would like Carter to knock it off over the next four years.
And he surely would like to spend his presidency on good terms with Scarborough and Brzezinski, the “Morning Joe” co-hosts who accurately labeled him a real contender early in the presidential race — much to Trump's delight — but who became fiercely critical, even mocking, down the stretch. Trump hosted Scarborough and Brzezinski at Mar-a-Lago on New Year's Eve; they discussed a possible interview, according to Scarborough, but there was no commitment.
Though he pretends not to care about the media and often publicly basks in bad press, presenting it as validation of his outsider status, Trump clearly appreciates the media's impact on public perception — and his private meetings with the press show how invested he is in coverage of his presidency.