On Tuesday, President Donald Trump abruptly ended an interview with Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” and refused to return for a second interview alongside Vice President Mike Pence.
Why? CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Khalil Abdallah explain: “Trump walked out of the interview because he was frustrated with Stahl’s line of questioning, one source said. Another person said the bulk of the interview was focused on coronavirus.”
Which makes perfect sense given what we know about the President.
This is a President who has, throughout his life, lived in a self-created bubble. He keeps a very tight inner circle, which he populates, primarily, with family members and “yes” men and women. Anyone who veers from the preferred storyline – which is, always, “you’re great, Mr. President” – is either pushed out of his inner circle or fired.
(Note: Ivanka Trump said Monday that her father “actually wants to hear from people who vehemently disagree with him.” Which is a very funny joke. Except I think she was serious.)
This bubble extends, typically, to the media interviews the President chooses to grant. On Tuesday morning, Trump called into “Fox & Friends,” the morning show on the conservative cable network that effectively functions as a cheerleading squad for the President and all of his policies. On Wednesday night, he will appear in an hour-long town hall hosted by Eric Bolling of Sinclair Broadcast Group, another conservative TV outlet.
According to CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller, Trump has given 10 times as many interviews to Fox as he has to any outlet since he became president. Here’s Knoller’s count:
Fox News (all platforms): 115
Wall Street Journal: 10
Washington Post: 8
New York Times: 8
CBS: 7 (including Tuesday’s “60 Minutes” interview)
Associated Press: 2
As the 2020 election has grown closer – and poll after poll suggests that Trump is a clear underdog against former Vice President Joe Biden – the President has retreated deeper and deeper into the comfy confines of the conservative media world – where he is still portrayed as a winner fighting for America and Democrats and the media are deeply corrupted forces, covering up various illegal activities. Or something.
But occasionally, Trump is forced to break out of that bubble in hopes of reaching voters outside of his hardcore base. And that’s when the trouble arises. Because actual journalists outside of Trump’s self-affirming bubble ask real and tough questions. Questions about his mishandling of the coronavirus. Questions about his trouble with telling the truth. Questions about his questionable Twitter habits.
Last week, Trump sat down for a primetime town hall with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. And, predictably, it didn’t go well for Trump. Mostly because Guthrie refused to let him just say things that were untrue or filibuster on things he didn’t want to answer. Trump made news – not the good kind – with his refusal to disavow QAnon, an Internet conspiracy theory that the FBI labeled as a potential domestic terror threat, and his rambling but revealing answers on his own tax returns.
Trump, with his bubble pricked, responded as he always does – with personal attacks.
“Everybody thought it was so inappropriate,” Trump said of Guthrie at a campaign stop the day after the town hall. “Savannah – it was like her face, the anger, the craziness.” He also suggested that Guthrie had “disappeared” after the town hall. “Nobody can find her. She’s not too popular right now.” Guthrie, it’s worth noting, was hosting the “Today” show – like she always does – the morning Trump claimed she had “disappeared.”
Which brings me to Trump’s 60 Minutes walkout.
Trump, being Trump, immediately sought to spin it in his favor. He tweeted out a snippet of video of Stahl not wearing a mask as evidence of the alleged hypocrisy in the media. A person familiar with the situation told CNN that the video tweeted by Trump came in the immediate aftermath of Trump ending the interview.
As Collins and Abdallah noted: “Stahl had not yet gone back to get her personal belongings to put her mask back on. She had a mask on from the time she entered the White House and just before the interview began.”
Trump also threatened, via Twitter, that “for the sake of accuracy in reporting, I am considering posting my interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, PRIOR TO AIRTIME! This will be done so that everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about.”
Which he might do! But the interview will almost certainly not show any sort of bias. Rather, it will show Stahl asking hard (and fair!) questions about Trump’s handling of Covid-19, which has sickened more than 8 million Americans and killed more than 221,000.
Because Trump rarely is forced out of his fantasy bubble, he can’t take the heat when real reporters ask him real questions. So he took his ball and went home.