Fox News broadcast what it called an interview of President Trump on Saturday night, but the network might as well have given him 20 minutes of free airtime. Trump bulldozed over host Jeanine Pirro, seldom letting her ask a question and showing again why he likes to make TV appearances by phone.
At one point, after Pirro asked how he planned to expand background checks for gun buyers, Trump spoke for 3 minutes and 10 seconds without stopping, talking over Pirro whenever she tried to interject. By the end of his filibuster, Trump had veered far away from the question to talk about arming teachers.
At other times, Pirro's camera showed her, mouth agape, trying to get in a word but unable to halt the monologuing president. Had Trump been seated across from Pirro or in a studio with a monitor, he might have noticed that his interviewer wanted to chime in. But he was on the phone and, even if he were watching the show on TV, could not see Pirro in real time because of a slight delay — and, therefore, did not have to take the hint.
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo told The Washington Post early in the 2016 presidential campaign, as Trump made a habit of calling in to TV shows, that the phone is “a tactic, a strategy more than it is a convenience.”
“He doesn’t have to pick up on any visual cues,” Cuomo said. “He doesn’t have to worry about the body language that is coming from somewhere else. … It’s easy for him to overtalk the questioner.”
It sure is.
Some news programs took a stand during the campaign and refused to let Trump phone in. “Fox News Sunday,” for example, declined to interview Trump unless he appeared in person or on camera.
“We were struggling with this,” Chuck Todd, host of NBC's “Meet the Press,” told me in November. Todd's executive producer, John Reiss, said he was the “bad guy” who decided to allow Trump to call in.
“My feeling was, 'Look, the guy is the leading [Republican] candidate,' ” Reiss recalled. “ 'He's way ahead in the polls. Yeah, it's only on the phone, and we don't like that, and why should we do that?' But part of it was other [networks] were doing it.”
“Meet the Press” ultimately found phone interviews untenable, however.
“It was one of those moments when we said, 'No, let's stand our ground. We're not doing a phoner,'” Todd said. “And he said, 'Okay.' ”
Pirro's show was more accommodating Saturday, and Trump took full advantage.