The Media Today

Press newly energized by White House contradictions

July 19, 2018

Would means wouldn’t, no means yes, and the president “did great” at a press conference that even some of his staunchest allies viewed as a disaster. Those are the messages coming from Donald Trump and his team as the fallout from Monday’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to dominate the news.

Speaking with CBS News anchor Jeff Glor on Wednesday, Trump attempted to reframe his meeting with the Russian leader, stating that he did press Putin on Russian interference in American democracy, that he has confidence in his own intelligence agencies, and that “it was a strong news conference.” The president blamed the media for the negative reaction to his performance, saying, “the press makes up the, look, it’s fake news. And people understand. I think the press largely makes up a lot of the fuss about a lot of things.” Glor, to his credit, pushed back, arguing, “The press covered the substance and the wording of that press conference accurately.” But really, his defense was unnecessary. The evidence was there, on tape, for all to see.

RELATED: Reporters call out Trump’s summit performance, and enter uncharted territory

The CBS interview, part of which aired last night, came on the heels of back-to-back reversals necessitated by the president’s own words. On Tuesday, Trump stated that he misspoke at the press conference in Helsinki when he said, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia who interfered in the 2016 election. He meant, the president claimed, to say “wouldn’t,” thereby implying his true beliefs were the exact opposite of what he said on the world stage. Then on Wednesday, when asked by ABC’s Cecilia Vega if Russia is still targeting the US, Trump responded, “Thank you very much, no.” This contradicted the claims of his own national intelligence director, who said last week that the warning lights regarding a Russian cyber attack “are blinking red again.”

But, you see, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said later in the day, the President again didn’t mean that. Sanders claimed at Wednesday’s press briefing that Trump was simply thanking Vega and then saying “no,” he wouldn’t be taking any more questions, and that the administration was taking steps to ensure that Russia would not meddle in future elections. This explanation was greeted with extreme skepticism given that Trump then went on to answer a follow-up from Vega and more questions from the press.

The Russia issue, thrown into the spotlight by Trump’s decision to meet with Putin and his disastrous performance at Monday’s press conference, isn’t going away. The president’s contradictory explanations and day-after defenses might be enough to satisfy his most ardent supporters, but reporters this week have appeared newly energized to press Trump and his spokespeople on the topic. Russian interference has been a constant national storyline since November 2016, but the events of this week have brought it to the fore. With each confusing and downright unbelievable reversal, Trump and his team add more fuel to a fire that’s flickering where there used to be just smoke.

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Below, more on Trump’s contradictions and the continued repercussions of Monday’s summit.

  • Still unknown: Trump told Glor that the press is failing to cover his one-on-one conversation with Putin, but the administration has been vague about what, if anything, was agreed to at that meeting.
  • Press solidarity: Last week in the UK, when Trump called CNN “fake news” and refused to take a question from the network, no reporters stood up for their colleague in the moment. At yesterday’s press briefing, when Sarah Sanders tried to ignore a follow-up question from NBC’s Hallie Jackson and called on The Hill’s Jordan Fabian, Fabian yielded the floor, saying, “Sorry, Hallie, go ahead if you want to.” The New York Times’s Michael M. Grynbaum said the “unusual show of solidarity between rival journalists seemed to signal a new approach by the White House press corps toward an administration that regularly uses briefings to deride, and divide, the news media.”
  • Not going away: Writing on Trump’s second day of reversals, The Washington Post’s John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez note that “despite the White House’s efforts to move past the controversy, the issue showed few signs of dying down.”


Other notable stories

  • Mark Zuckerberg sat down with Recode’s Kara Swisher for a wide-ranging interview, which Swisher framed as “a picture of an earnest and canny tech leader who is also grappling with the darker side of his creation.” In one notable exchange, Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s decision to allow conspiracy-peddlers like Infowars to remain on the platform by drawing a tortured analogy to Holocaust deniers. (He later emailed Swisher to clarify those remarks.)
  • More than 370 journalists responded to a request from the IRE to to help The Capital Gazette put out its paper, and the organization reports that it now has “more offers than we could possibly use.”
  • Wired’s Issie Lapowsky profiles the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia’s Jonathan Albright, “the man who’s been conducting some of the most consequential and prolific research on the tech industry’s multitudinous screwups.” Albright’s work covering misinformation on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media sites has been featured in publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post. “Not quite a journalist, not quite a coder, and certainly not your traditional social scientist, he’s a potent blend of all three,” Lapowsky writes. “A tireless internet sleuth with prestigious academic bona fides who can crack and crunch data and serve it up in scoops to the press.”
  • CJR’s Corey Hutchins reports on the Colorado Sun, a Civil-backed startup that’s pitching itself as a local alternative to The Denver Post. The Sun, which plans to launch around Labor Day, is staffed entirely, so far, by 10 former Post employees, including several reporters and editors from the paper’s politics desk.
  • BuzzFeed News’s Joe Bernstein has a good piece on a rough topic. He writes about his search for answers after Lane Davis, one of Bernstein sources and a conspiracy theorist and fringe figure in the pro-Trump media sphere, killed his own father. It’s an isolated case, but also a piercing look at the dark corners of the internet that Bernstein has made his beat.
  • Chance the Rapper is the new owner of local news site Chicagoist, and he announced the purchase in a new song, reports Gothamist’s Jen Carlson. He bought the site from WNYC, saying, “I look forward to re-launching [Chicagoist] and bringing the people of Chicago an independent media outlet focused on amplifying diverse voices and content.” In the song, he says, “I bought the Chicagoist to run you racist bitches out of business,” in a verse that refers to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and the Chicago Sun Times.

ICYMI: Republicans still convinced Facebook and Twitter are biased against them

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.