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President-elect Donald Trump walks through the lobby of the New York Times following a meeting with editors at the paper on November 22, 2016 in New York City. Trump, who has held meetings with media executives over the last few days, has often had a tense relationship with many mainstream media outlets. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump walks through the lobby of the New York Times following a meeting with editors at the paper on November 22, 2016 in New York City. Trump, who has held meetings with media executives over the last few days, has often had a tense relationship with many mainstream media outlets. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

u.s. politics

The enemy Trump can’t do without Add to ...

How much does Donald Trump hate the press? On Tuesday, any reporter trying to keep up with his War on the Media™ might have suffered a bad case of whiplash.

Dawn hadn’t even broken when Trump announced – via Twitter, natch – at 6:16 a.m. ET that he’d abruptly cancelled a planned summit with “the failing @nytimes” because, he claimed, “the terms and conditions of the meeting were changed at the last moment. Not nice.” In a follow-up tweet, he said: “Perhaps a new meeting will be set up with the @nytimes. In the meantime they continue to cover me inaccurately and with a nasty tone!”

A Times spokesperson said it was unclear which changes Trump was referring to, noting that all sides had agreed the meeting would comprise an off-the-record chat with the publisher followed by an on-the-record interview with almost two dozen editors, reporters and columnists.

Within a couple of hours, reports began emerging that Trump may have been played by his new chief of staff Reince Priebus, who, concerned that the president-elect might not be ready to answer some questions, told Trump that the Times had changed the terms of the meeting. By 10:40 a.m., Trump tweeted that the meeting was back on for 12:30 p.m. “Look forward to it!” he declared.

Accompanied by four aides, including Priebus, Trump trooped over to the New York Times headquarters, his progress across town tracked by breathless live tweets. Some Trump supporters could taste blood: On Monday, when he had met representatives from the major U.S. broadcasters and news networks, according to leaked reports he blasted them for their nasty coverage.

What, then, might he say to his bête noire?

“I have great respect for the New York Times. I have tremendous respect,” he told those assembled in the 16-floor boardroom, in “measured, quiet tones,” according to tweets by Mike Grynbaum, one of the paper’s media reporters. Still: “I think I’ve been treated very rough.” He added that he would like to repair the relationship. “I think it would make the job I am doing much easier.”

It was a rare acknowledgment that, though Trump has demolished most political conventions and cannily uses Twitter to summon enthusiasm among his supporters, he still needs conventional media. After all, even as he railed against the Times during his 17-month campaign – and lashed out at the paper with half a dozen sharp tweets in the days after the election – he craves its attention and approval. “I do read it,” he told reporters at the meeting, adding in a rare moment of self-awareness: “Unfortunately, I’d live about 20 years longer if I didn’t.”

By the end of the 75-minute lunchtime encounter, Trump was praising the paper in practically purple prose, calling it, according to a tweet from the Times’ White House reporter Julie Davis, “a great, great American jewel – a world jewel.”

Oh, don’t worry: That won’t last. Having vanquished Hillary Clinton, and been presented with a compliant Senate and House of Representatives – “they love me now,” he told the Times on Tuesday – Trump needs another dependable enemy. The national news media, which by their nature are oppositional and by their breeding unrepresentative of America (though, of course, more representative than Trump), are happy to fulfill that role.

Over the past couple of weeks, critics have darkly suggested that Breitbart.com, the hate-filled website previously overseen by Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, will become the Pravda of the new White House. (I echoed that recently.)

But it’s not clear how much Trump really needs Breitbart.

After all, his media platform of choice is Twitter, a medium that is a genetic fit for a hit-and-run approach to messaging. Trump succeeded on the campaign trail in part because his rally speeches were like his Twitter stream – one outrageous declaration after another that left fact-checking reporters agog and exhausted as they fruitlessly tried to bring him, or at least his statements, to heel. On Twitter, Trump recognizes and feeds the terminal velocity of the media ecosystem, which desperately craves frequent turns of the narrative screw.

And though he has a long memory for slights, Trump appears to have a vanishingly small attention span for policy, often changing his positions on an issue within the course of a single interview.

He is America’s goldfish-in-chief; we’re just swimming in his bowl.

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Follow on Twitter: @simonhoupt

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