Trump punks the media – Politico
Donald Trump on Friday morning dangled an enticing offer — he would be making a “big statement” in just a few hours about the Barack Obama birther conspiracy that helped launch his political career.
The media took the bait. The cable networks offered wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s plane taxiing at Reagan National Airport (cozying near Hillary Clinton’s own “Stronger Together” jet). With Trump running late for the 10 a.m. news conference, the image of an empty podium was flashed for more than an hour. And when Trump finally did appear, he got more than 20 minutes of free airtime promoting his new Washington hotel and showcasing endorsements from Medal of Honor recipients.
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Only after that extended infomercial did Trump deliver the goods — a speedy statement that Obama was indeed born in the United States, coupled with a blatantly false accusation that Hillary Clinton started the conspiracy to begin with.
The media got punked.
“It’s hard to imagine this as anything other than a political Rick-roll,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper vented on air after Trump’s hotel event. His colleague John King followed up with, “We just got played.”
Trump has long had a dysfunctional relationship with the media, with the Republican nominee blacklisting reporters, calling them names, and even mocking one journalist’s physical disability, all while racking up free airtime round-the-clock.
But the past 24 hours showed Trump’s ability to still play the media — in the words of former rival Jeb Bush — “like a fine Stradivarius violin.”
The media did try to band together in a mild protest this time. After the campaign tried to only allow photographers and camera people with Trump as he toured the new hotel, denying access to a producer or reporter who might ask him a question, reporters balked.
One member of Trump’s traveling press corps said the indignities of the day — combined with Trump having left reporters behind the prior night, only to publicly mock them for being late — “lit a fire” under the media.
In a show of defiance, the major networks collectively voted to pull a camera and erase video of Trump giving a tour of his hotel. But that only came after the lengthy free coverage Trump racked up earlier on Friday.
“Nice hotel. Under budget and ahead of schedule. Isn’t that nice? Now, it is a great honor. This is a brand new ballroom. Only see a small piece of it because we have it broken down, but this is it. The hotel is completed,” Trump said before delivering his promised birther announcement.
Trump then moved on to speaking about the array of military officials and heroes behind him, representing 120 officer endorsements and 17 Medal of Honor endorsements. After speaking for a few minutes, Trump introduced Medal of Honor recipient Mike Thornton, who made a statement about why he is supporting Trump. Thornton was followed by at least seven other military officers who also offered glowing words for Trump.
After about twenty minutes the cable networks recognized Trump wasn’t coming on any time soon, and they cut out, and offered some clearly irritated commentary about Trump’s bait-and-switch.
“To be clear, we have been told this event would be an event where Donald Trump would address his past trafficking in the birther issue, the notion that President Obama was not born in the United States,” CNN anchor John Berman added. “He opened the event making a plug for his hotel, he has a new hotel so in a sense, you could say he was leveraging five years of birther conspiracy to promote his hotel. Now we have been listening to veterans and military officials praising Donald Trump. He has lined up quite a bit of support onstage.”
“As soon as Donald Trump is speaking germane to the new conversation right now, which is focused on the comments that even he himself said he would hope to address soon, the topic of bitherism,” MSNBC’s Peter Alexander said as he anchored the coverage.
It was a cunning move on Trump’s part — entice the media with a topic that was dominating the news cycle, package it with a promotion for his brand new hotel, and then add in bona fide military heroes and Medal of Honor recipients, for whom cutting away from quickly could be viewed as disrespectful.
“What they did, was tease us that he was going to say something, then as John said, played us by making sure that everybody who has an ability to show Donald Trump actually took 20 minutes or got 20 minutes of very important decorated veterans praising somebody who they think should be the next commander-in-chief, which would not have been live on cable news otherwise,” CNN’s Dana Bash said on air.
Trump and his supporters have reveled in his love-hate relationship with the media. While courting certain members of the media and being eminently available for interviews, he has also banned outlets (POLITICO included) from his events and personally targeted reporters. His most recent personal attack on a journalist was on Friday morning, but became buried under the rest of the news of the day. Trump went after Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Prachi Gupta, calling her “non-intelligent” during a Fox Business call-in after she published the transcript of an interview with his daughter Ivanka Trump that became contentious.
The events on Friday only intensified frustrations from the media that had been simmering for some time. On Thursday night, Trump left his campaign press pool behind, their travel hampered by traffic while Trump’s motorcade swiftly got him out of New York City and on to New Hampshire where he was hosting a rally, which he kicked it off by mocking the reporters for being late.
Reporters were incensed, telling POLITICO it was a “boiling point” and that they were debating taking action.
“There’s the want to do something among traveling press of course — being constantly mocked and demonized is awful — but there’s the competing feeling that news organizations have almost let too much slide to have any bargaining power at this point,” said another member of Trump’s traveling press corps.
That action took place on Friday, when the campaign would not allow ABC’s Candace Smith, who was acting as the television pool producer, from joining Trump on his tour of his new hotel. The campaign only wanted still photographers and video cameras to join Trump.
So the television network Washington bureau chiefs got together on an emergency conference call and decided that they would pull the network pool camera and erase footage of the tour.
In a statement, Fox News Washington Bureau Chief Bryan Boughton, who is the current pool chair for the television pool, said without reporters or producers, the pool doesn’t traditionally participate in an event.
“The television pool members chose not to participate in a tour of the Trump Hotel in Washington D.C. today because our editorial team member was barred from going on the tour with a videographer,” Boughton said. “The TV pool traditionally doesn’t participate in events that our reporters or producers are not allowed to attend.”
The incident marked one of the few times the media banded together to stand up to the Trump campaign’s treatment of the media. But it’s unlikely to last.
“NOTHING will change until TV cameras stop covering Trump blindly and take a stand in solidarity,” tweeted the New York Times’ Ashley Parker.
The Trump campaign did not respond to request for comments on Thursday night or Friday morning. But it likely doesn’t matter.
“Right now, Trump has it all,” the Washington Post’s Robert Costa said on MSNBC on Friday morning. “He has his property debuting in D.C. He’s on every network. He’s at the center.”