The White House’s top spokesman, also known as President Trump, says “we’re communicating very well” now that he is giving interviews and talking to the press almost every day.
Trump has truly become his own spokesperson – holding semi-regular Q&A’s with reporters at the same time the press shop’s daily briefing has been shelved.
On Tuesday he went from a taping for the Fox Business Network to an interview with The Associated Press. On Wednesday he was back on Fox Business for another interview.
He complained to Fox’s Stuart Varney about the AP, saying the quotes were “perfect” but one of its headlines was “terrible.”
But these complaints won’t slow the pace of interviews he is granting as the midterms near.
Trump has been invigorated by his media blitz in recent weeks, two White House officials told CNN.
The White House is working its way down a list of outlets the president plans to sit down with before the November 6 elections. The list includes both friendly hosts like Varney, who promotes the president’s agenda, and traditional media outlets like the AP.
“We have a list. And we’re just trying to get through it,” a senior White House official said.
More interviews, more flubs
The uptick in press access was noticeable last week, when Trump was celebrating the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He held almost a dozen informal Q&A’s with reporters and gave at least eight interviews.
During just one day last week, the president spoke to reporters alongside UN ambassador Nikki Haley in the Oval Office for a half-hour; entertained magazine reporter Olivia Nuzzi for a lengthy interview that involved top members of his administration; took yet more questions as he departed the White House; and then engaged reporters again aboard Air Force One. And that was before he rallied supporters for more than an hour on stage.
This flood-the-zone approach has resulted in a flood of fibs, flubs, and outright fantasies. It’s not easy for fact-checkers to keep up. His rallygoers relate to the story he’s telling – about his “America First” agenda and a midterm season struggle for power against Democrats.
Trump told Varney on Tuesday that he probably won’t keep up this pace of interviews after the midterms.
“We want to win, we want to get the Republicans nominated and we want to get them elected,” he said.
All-out media blitz
Trump’s calculation is that the more he talks, the more successful the GOP will be.
How many interviews will he give between now and election day?
“As much as we can fit in,” the senior W.H. official told CNN. “He loves to talk. He feels like he’s communicating with people. And he feels like he’s giving you” in the media “what you want.”
The official has a point. Many members of the media have bemoaned Trump’s Fox-centric behavior in the past. Fox talk shows have proven to be Trump’s shelter from the storm ever since inauguration day.
According to Mark Knoller of CBS, Trump has granted 36 interviews to Fox since the inauguration. Most of those have been with boosters like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro.
Fox’s total compares with six interviews with The New York Times, five with the Wall Street Journal, five with NBC News and CNBC, four with CBS News, two with ABC, and zero with CNN.
Trump continues to favor Fox: He called into “Fox News @ Night” and “Fox & Friends” back-to-back last week, and made bac-to-back appearances on Fox Business this week.
But he also talked with reporters from the Washington Examiner, Time magazine, the New York Post, “60 Minutes,” and WKYT TV last week.
The “60 Minutes” interview was his first with the newsmagazine – America’s highest-rated news program by far – in two years.
Lesley Stahl, who interviewed him, said afterward, “I think he’s trying to win the midterm election for the Republicans. And I think he believes, and I know his people believe, the more he’s out there, publicly, the stronger the chances are for the Republicans.”
“Let Trump be Trump”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and other Trump aides have repeatedly said that Trump is his own best messenger. For more than a year, there’s been a running joke about how Trump doubles as his own communications director.
Now the White House really seems to be embracing this approach. Sanders has all but stopped holding briefings: There has only been one briefing so far in October.
It harkens back to the “let Trump be Trump” mantra of the 2016 campaign, when he would call into TV news shows and chat witha reporters on the trail.
This is one of the paradoxes of the Trump presidency: He rails against the news media, using extreme terms like “enemy of the people,” even encourages his supporters to hate individual reporters. But he craves the news media’s attention and sometimes enjoys the back-and-forth with aggressive questioners.
As Stahl said after the “60 Minutes” taping, “He enjoyed the sparring. He said so. And I could tell he enjoyed it.”
“He has polluted our information ecosystem”
Trump claimed on Varney’s show on Tuesday that his sessions with reporters are “a form of getting out the truth” – even though he routinely exaggerates and contradicts himself in the conversations.
He said the media doesn’t properly cover the economic boom – echoing a claim Varney frequently makes on TV – so he’s giving interviews to counter that.
“They do not treat us fairly,” Trump said, “and therefore if I do the news – they all want me on the news, so – I can talk about it myself.”
Trump mangled many facts, but Varney did not interrupt or ask for evidence. For example, Trump said that Saudi Arabia’s arms deal with the US – which has yet to come close to fruition – would produce “500,000 jobs.”
Earlier this year, Trump claimed that deals with the Saudis would account for “over 40,000 jobs in the United States.” He didn’t provide evidence for either claim.
In both the AP and Fox Business interviews, Trump claimed that he secured the first pay raise for members of the military in “11 years.”
“We got a raise for the people, they haven’t had a raise in 11 years,” he told Varney.
The Department of Defense’s website shows that pay has increased each year for the past 11 years. Trump could have said, accurately, that this year’s raise was the largest in almost a decade, but he didn’t.
But by saturating the airwaves and filling up reporters’ notebooks, Trump may reduce the consequences of each fact-free claim.
“He has polluted our information ecosystem,” Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday. “Trump can go on TV and say something incredibly stupid, something that’s horrible in terms of foreign relations, and it almost does not matter, because he is on to the next thing talking about it, and we are always chasing him.”
Doug Heye, a GOP communications strategist, said on the program that Trump’s media blitz is proving to be effective, though it always comes with risks.
“Trump’s purpose here is to dominate all media coverage,” Heye said. “And there is no one that we’ve seen in American public life that’s better than that.”