The destroyer of norms was upset Wednesday night about the apparent destruction of a norm:
The president may have been referring to this story in the New York Times by Peter Baker. Titled “Trump’s National Address Escalates Border Wall Fight,” the story discusses Trump’s Tuesday fear-mongering speech and includes some details on just how he himself viewed the high-profile event. “Yet privately, Mr. Trump dismissed his own new strategy as pointless,” wrote Baker, “In an off-the-record lunch with television anchors hours before the address, he made clear in blunt terms that he was not inclined to give the speech or go to Texas, but was talked into it by advisers, according to two people briefed on the discussion who asked not to be identified sharing details.” Baker also secured a quote from his reporting: “It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it,” Trump told the network anchors, according to the Times’s account.
It’s true, as Trump says in his tweet, that doing off-the-record chats with network big shots is a custom before big speeches.
What’s also true is that details from off-the-record sessions between presidents and journalists — as well as other Beltway types — often leak out into the public. In fact, Baker himself has cracked off-the-record huddles before, as this blog discussed in a previous post. That includes an off-the-record meeting that President Barack Obama held with newspaper columnists: “In his meeting with the columnists, Mr. Obama indicated that he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and made clear that he plans to step up his public arguments,” wrote Baker and a colleague in December 2015. (That particular passage was later edited out of the article.)
As a general proposition, leaks rankle Trump, who once asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey to jail journalists who publish classified information. Investigations of leaks tripled under Trump’s Justice Department, declared then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the summer of 2017.
But why the outrage over this particular leak? The revelation appears to be that Trump had a difference of opinion with his advisers about political strategy. So he listened to his advisers. Given this hardheaded man, that’s easy to spin as a positive story.
In light of all that, the Erik Wemple Blog would suggest Trump amend his tweet as follows: “Gave an OFF THE RECORD luncheon, somewhat of a White House tradition or custom, to network anchors yesterday - and they quickly leaked the contents of the meeting. Next time: ON THE RECORD!”