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Journalist: President Trump ‘doesn’t get credit for being so accessible’ to the press
Gage Skidmore / CCL
With just weeks to go before Election Day, President Donald Trump is sharing impromptu comments with the press at a dizzying pace to promote his achievements. But while President Trump’s critics often compare him to a dictator who hates the free press, some journalists say there’s never been a more accessible president in the country’s 242-year history.
Trump, the most media-accessible president
The president’s critics often note that he has held relatively few press conferences, but what the Trump administration lacks in typical press access it more than makes up for with nearly constant, spur-of-the-moment Q&A sessions.
“In my experience covering White Houses, from Reagan to George W. Bush, we’ve never had that kind of access from a president before,” Richard Benedetto, a retired White House correspondent who teaches at American University, told the Washington Times. “He doesn’t get credit for being so accessible. He answers questions all over the place.”
Take Tuesday, for example, when Trump talked to reporters throughout the day in his free-wheeling, devil-may-care fashion. Trump opened the White House up to the press in the morning to discuss the resignation of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley almost immediately after it was announced, an unprecedented move for such an important topic.
After that 20-minute session ended, Trump made his way to Marine One in the afternoon to fly to a campaign rally in Iowa, but not before stopping on the South Lawn for another 15-minute session with reporters. Aboard Air Force One later that day, Trump invited the press for another session lasting half-an-hour in his cabin, another break from presidential precedent.
The Trump show continued throughout the week with a session at the Oval Office on Wednesday, where Trump took questions about Hurricane Michael.
Departure from Obama
Trump’s casual approach marks a stark contrast with his predecessors. Eschewing more traditional channels of communication, Trump prefers to speak directly to the people through impromptu press sessions, Twitter, and campaign-style rallies, were he frequently mocks the journalists assembled there to cover him. The result is unfiltered coverage of an unfiltered president – a president who, to his supporters, isn’t afraid to “tell it like it is.”
“It’s just the antithesis of Barack Obama,” Benedetto said. “Obama was very careful in expressing his views on anything that came along that was slightly controversial. He tested the waters by having his secretary of state do it, or having his press secretary do it, or having his vice president do it. He used them as kind of a shield before he actually came out,” he added, recalling a time when Biden came out in support of gay marriage before Obama did.
For all his acrimony towards the “Fake News,” which he calls the “enemy of the people,” Trump loves the attention. Lifted by glowing reports of economic recovery, a successful trade deal with Canada and Mexico, and a successful Supreme Court nomination that many thought was doomed, Trump is eager to brag.
To promote his record of achievement, Trump is holding rallies every week in the run-up to the midterms, and he doesn’t spare a rally or a session with reporters to tout his record of achievement. Journalists were also back at the Oval Office on Thursday as Trump met with rap star Kanye West for lunch and a bizarre, spontaneous conference, another opportunity for Trump to boost his image with an endorsement from one of pop culture’s most influential people.
Master of the media
But it’s not merely that Trump loves to talk. The Queens-born businessman whose romantic affairs have adorned the covers of New York City tabloids for decades hasn’t lost his touch with the press, and he is using his gift for gab to control the news cycle.
“The White House knows that all of his comments drive news cycles, so the more you can step up the metabolism of the news cycle, the better it is for him,” an anonymous reporter told the Times. “Also, I think he loves the attention. He has strongly held opinions, and he needs to tell people about them.”
Trump and hostile reporters both know that news cycles begin and end with his often outrageous comments. Add in Trump’s unconventional approach to press access, and reporters are left hanging on his every word.
Meanwhile, sharing news-breaking comments on the South Lawn has become a hallmark of Trump’s cavalier relationship with the media; many of his consequential remarks appearing in news videos are even muffled by the sound of helicopter engines. A side-effect of this approach is a dynamic where Trump has the power to ignore an often-hostile press when he wants: he can walk past the press pool and be whisked away to a rally, where he can speak right to his supporters — and give the press a routine drubbing.
“It’s all him,” the anonymous reporter said. “The format is the ultimate home-court advantage. All the network reporters are lined up behind a chain begging for his attention, and he can pick and choose who he favors and who he doesn’t favor. He loves it, and it works for him.”
Still, Trump’s love-hate relationship with the press is underlined by a stark reality: a recent report from the Media Research Center found that coverage of the president was 90 percent hostile. Trump may have a point about the media being the “enemy” of the people — but for an enemy, he sure knows how to work them.
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