PRESIDENT TRUMP's preferred method of communicating to the American people and the world is Twitter, using short, one-way blasts that reverberate in other news and social media. Mr. Trump also engages in other methods, from campaign-style rallies to interviews and scripted speeches. But he rarely tackles the hardest but in many ways most revealing kind of communication, facing the press corps in a stand-alone news conference, with questions that seek to probe and hold to account.
In his first year in office, according to data from the American Presidency Project, President Barack Obama held 11 solo news conferences and 16 jointly, for a total of 27. President George W. Bush held five solo and 14 jointly in his first year. President Bill Clinton held 12 solo and 26 jointly. In his first year, Mr. Trump has held only one solo news conference, last February at the outset of his term, and 20 jointly. These joint news conferences are usually with foreign visitors with four questions, two each, hardly a venue for serious give-and-take. Mr. Trump also held a mini press conference Saturday at Camp David on the sidelines of a meeting with Republican congressional leaders. He took questions for about 11 minutes .
Recent presidents often held an end-of-year solo news conference. According to a compilation by Martha Joynt Kumar, who is a retired political science professor at Towson University and director of the nonpartisan White House Transition Project, Mr. Obama held one in December at the White House for six of his eight years; Mr. Bush for five of eight years; and Mr. Clinton for five of eight years. Mr. Trump held no formal year-end solo news conference. Last Thursday, reporters at the daily White House briefing were shown a video of the president on screens at the front of the room. Mr. Trump talked about tax cuts and economic growth in a format that offered no opportunity for questions. Although Mr. Trump was in the building and could easily have walked down to the briefing room, the White House offered only pixels of a canned pitch.
Why? Maybe he lacks the confidence to face the media on a regular basis. Maybe he calculates he has little to gain. Mr. Trump has broadly tried to delegitimitize the news media with the moniker "fake news" applied to any story he doesn't like; he sees the news media through the prism of friend or foe and apparently consumes a very narrow diet of information, chiefly from Fox News. He knows he can reach a huge audience with his tweets. Why bother standing before reporters to face hard questioning?
The reason to do it is simple. Mr. Trump is a public servant, and a news conference provides give-and-take that is at the core of democracy. Reporters ask a leader to account for decisions, and everyone can see the answer, a useful offset to canned spin such as the White House video. A good answer can improve a president's credibility, too. But Mr. Trump doesn't seem to embrace the role of public servant nor adhere to cherished norms of American democracy.
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