Donald Trump held a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. During the event, the third he has held during visits from world leaders, he once again took very few questions. And the questions he did take came exclusively from right-wing outlets.
Talking Points Memo notes that Trump fielded questions from Christian Broadcasting News and Townhall.com. That follows on the heels of the news conference with Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, where he called upon The Daily Caller and WJLA, which is owned by conservative Sinclair Broadcasting. In his first presser with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump gave his time to Fox Business and the New York Post.
The Orange Emperor is obviously trying to send a message and at least some in the media are reading it loud and clear. Following Wednesday's news conference CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta remarked, "The fix is in."
Trump has been engaged in a war with the media for months. Outlets that insist on reporting what he says in an accurate fashion get attacked, then ignored. And now we are seeing that he intends to rub it in by giving the few questions he deigns to answer to those who will report on him as he wishes.
Despite the whirlwind of controversy surrounding Trump and his administration, he has fielded no questions about any of it. The reporters he has called upon have failed to query him about things like the confirmation of his more controversial Cabinet picks, or the continuing issues surrounding his Russian connections. While their questions weren't all "softball" in nature, correspondents from these right-wing outlets have avoided picking a fight.
The result is that important questions go not only unanswered, but unasked. This leaves journalists to work from information gathered in other ways, which gives Trump plausible deniability when unfavorable stories appear in the media, and a chance to once again cry "fake news!"
Every president has had favorite media outlets. But it has not been common practice in the past for a president to give those outlets 100 percent of his attention 100 percent of the time. For example, Fox News was certainly no friend to President Obama, but Fox reporters often got the chance to ask him questions, even though at times they probably wished they hadn't.
The battles between Trump's political doppelgänger Richard Nixon and former CBS reporter Dan Rather are legendary. But Nixon still didn't shy away from calling on Rather. Trump, on the other hand, always wants to be seen as the smartest guy in the room and it is obvious he doesn't want to be faced with questions for which he has no substantive answer, or which challenge him in any way.
If this is going to be Trump's modus operandi going forward, there are ways to combat it. One possible way is to have journalists agree ahead of time to ask questions from a short list, so that no matter who is called upon, important questions get posed, even if they don't get answered. But that would take an extremely high level of cooperation, and in the dog-eat-dog world of modern journalism, don't expect that to happen, particularly when small conservative outlets, happy to get Dear Leader's attention, are part of the mix.
Another, perhaps more viable way to send a message is to simply not send reporters from legitimate outlets to cover the press conferences. Then those outlets can make it quite clear to their readers or viewers that there was no point in attending since they would not have been given the opportunity to ask questions anyway. This would have the added bonus of allowing them to report the stories without feeling obligated to publish Trump's spin on them. And a story accompanied by a pool photographer's shot or two of a mostly empty briefing room would speak volumes.
In the past many media outlets have given in to pressure from presidential administrations who have threatened to deny them access because of anger over their reporting. And who can forget NBC's Chuck Todd, who famously told comedian Lewis Black that if he was tough on his guests they wouldn't want to come back on his show? Trump seems to be trying the "cold shoulder" technique to bring pressure on outlets he considers to be his enemies. So far the pushback from places like CNN and The New York Times has been strong. But will it continue? That's the next unasked question.