NEW YORK – President Donald Trump stepped up his attacks on the “fake media” Wednesday but the media was fighting back, objecting to a presidential news conference that avoided tough questions and, in the case of one MSNBC program, banning presidential aide Kellyanne Conway from the air.
Trump tweeted and voiced complaints about the media’s treatment of his ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn and the “criminal” leak of details on Flynn’s discussion with Russians. Flynn is out after less than a month, with White House saying Trump lost confidence in him for misleading Vice-President Mike Pence about talks with the Russian ambassador.
The president held a news conference prior to meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As he did during the past week following meetings with leaders of Canada and Japan, Trump called on reporters from friendly news outlets.
On Wednesday, he chose David Brody, a columnist for the Pat Robertson-founded Christian Broadcast Network, and Katie Pavlich, editor of the conservative website townhall.com.
Brody invoked Flynn, asking if the national security job vacancy would affect the administration’s attitude toward the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran. Trump used that question to complain about unfair media treatment of Flynn. He blamed people upset with his victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton for being responsible for media leaks.
Pavlich asked Trump about compromises he would seek from Israel and the Palestinians to achieve peace.
The questions left other reporters frustrated by a lost opportunity to ask about reports that the Trump campaign had been in contact with Russian officials before his election. Trump smiled and walked away when one reporter shouted out if he could ask about Flynn.
“I wanted to jump up and say, ‘You fired him. Why did you fire him?”’ said ABC News’ Jonathan Karl.
CNN’s Jim Acosta said the administration was clearly trying to avoid questions, adding that Trump could “only be shielded for so long.”
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Conway, meanwhile, won’t be answering questions on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, at least for a while. Show co-host Mika Brzezinski said Wednesday that Conway wouldn’t be allowed on the three-hour public affairs program, which has had a love-hate relationship with Trump over the course of the campaign.
Brzezinski said she won’t book Conway, “because I don’t believe in fake news or information that is not true. Every time I’ve seen her on television, something’s askew, off or incorrect.”
It’s been a rough stretch for the presidential counsellor. She said on MSNBC Monday that Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn, hours before he lost his job. A government ethics panel urged the White House to discipline her for urging Fox News Channel viewers to buy Ivanka Trump’s products. NBC’s Matt Lauer admonished her, “Kellyanne, that makes no sense,” during a “Today” show interview on Tuesday.
Then there was Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of an unhinged Conway on “Saturday Night Live.”
CNN said last week that it had turned down a chance to book her on Jake Tapper’s Feb. 5 program because she had credibility issues; Conway has said she told them she was unavailable that day. Tapper then interviewed Conway on his weekday program two days later, although she hasn’t been on the network since. The White House has banned its officials from appearing on the network.
NBC News said Brzezinski’s statement reflected the views of one program, not the network as a whole. The decision is potentially confusing for both viewers and NBC executives, said Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland. What are viewers to think if a source is deemed not credible enough to be on one show but appears on the same network three hours later?
While she wasn’t on “Morning Joe,” she was on NBC News’ higher-profile “Today” show on Tuesday.
She’s not the only Trump administration official who has clashed with the media over facts. Trump aide Stephen Miller was scolded by an angry George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday for not giving evidence to support a claim of voter fraud. White House press secretary Sean Spicer was criticized after his first White House briefing for giving untrue statements about the inauguration.
“Where do you stop?” Feldstein said. “Conway isn’t the only member of the administration who has a truth-telling problem. It starts at the very top. Can you stop putting Donald Trump on the air if what he says is false? You can’t. He’s the president of the United States.”
John Dickerson, CBS News “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson, while emphasizing he’s not talking about the “Morning Joe” decision, said it’s important to get the administration’s views on the record, whether or not they prove accurate.
“Part of my job is allowing the administration to explain itself to people and not interrupt them so much they can’t ever get their point of view across,” Dickerson said. “They say what they believe, and then you interrogate them.”
He said he wished he could ask questions that came with a dose of the truth serum sodium pentothal “to get the perfect, truth-filled answers, but that is not going to happen.”