BREAKING: Donald Trump doesn't really think the New York Times is 'failing'

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  • President Trump has repeatedly criticized The New York Times and called it "failing"
  • But there's evidence he understands the paper's importance and cares about how it portrays him

(CNN)President Donald Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20. Between that day and today, he has referred to the New York Times as "failing" in no fewer than 17 tweets.

Which begs the question: Why, on Wednesday, did Trump give three New York Times reporters nearly an hour of his time for a sit-down interview in which he touched on everything from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to French President Emmanuel Macron's penchant for hand-holding to his theories about the cold-weather attributes of Russian soldiers?
If the New York Times is, indeed, "failing," a "joke," and "fake news" -- all of which Trump has called it this year -- why acknowledge they even exist much less spend an hour with them?
    Or, in the words of Anderson Cooper: "Why on God's green earth does the President of the United States gives this interview today of all days when the focus is supposed to be on health care and this is also Buy American Week?"
    The answer is simple: Donald Trump doesn't think the New York Times is failing. Or a joke. Or fake news. Far from it.
    Trump grew up in New York City. Prior to being elected president, he's lived his entire life there. He not only reads the Times but he understands its power to drive agendas and validate public figures. As such, he cares how he is portrayed in it -- deeply.
    It's why he's given interviews to the Times repeatedly since winning the White House -- even as he kept up the "failing" drum beat on Twitter. In a visit to the Times headquarters two weeks after he won the election, Trump described the Times as "a great, great American jewel, world jewel."
    Trump knows that beating up on the Times, CNN and The Washington Post -- his three most consistent targets in the media -- is good politics for him. His supporters not only deeply distrust the media but believe journalists are all thinly-veiled liberals who are out to get conservatives at every turn.
    Trump didn't invent bashing the media for his own political gain. It was once the exclusive purview of Republican candidates but as the effects of political polarization have baked into the electorate, Democratic candidates have picked up the message too. Hillary Clinton all-but-laid her 2016 defeat at the feet of the mainstream media who, she believes, focused on her private email server while ignoring Trump's massive problems as a candidate.
    Trump did, however, take attacking the media to a new level -- singling out reporters who had fallen out of his favor by name and often directing the attention (and ire) of his large campaign crowds to the pen of reporters covering the event.
    Many of his supporters who attended those rallies believed -- and believe -- that Trump really does hate reporters and really thinks the New York Times is failing and CNN is fake news. He doesn't.
    Now, that doesn't mean Trump loves the media or thinks he gets fair treatment from it all of the time.
    Instead, what it means is that Trump understands the symbiotic relationship between the media and public figures/politicians. He has a hugely nuanced understanding of how and when to use the media to help him and when to bash the media to placate his supporters.
    This is all to say that Trump's "hatred" of the New York Times (and the broader media world) is a practiced strategy, not a deeply-held belief.
    His entire life leading up to his run for president affirms that fact.
    "Read a great interview with Donald Trump that appeared in The New York Times Magazine," Trump tweeted in May 2009. "Such a nice article in the New York Times about a wonderful developer, Arthur Zeckendorf," he tweeted in November 2013.
    And, even as president, Trump makes clear with his actions -- not his words -- his real views on the Times. You don't spend an hour with three New York Times' reporters in the midst of a desperate attempt to revive health care legislation in the Senate unless you care about what they and their publication think. And he does.