The media today: Facing a sea of crises, Trump sticks to media safe spaces

A cloud continues to hang over his chief of staff’s judgment, a former campaign staffer pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and his lawyers are negotiating with the special counsel investigating his campaign’s ties to Russian election interference, but President Donald Trump hasn’t faced an interview on any of those subjects. Instead, over the past several days, the president spoke before a friendly crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference and called a sympathetic Fox News host who lauded his “soaring” approval ratings while congratulating him on all that he’d accomplished.

It’s been more than a year since Trump gave his only solo press conference as president and months since he last sat for a network television interview. While he has answered questions at informal pool sprays and spoken at length with print reporters, Trump’s TV appearances have largely been limited to the friendly confines of the Fox family of cable networks. A promised “rescheduling” of a 60 Minutes interview seems to have been quietly been set aside.

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker called Trump’s 75-minute speech at CPAC an example of his “unending campaign,” and his Saturday phoner with Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro—the first time as president he has utilized a tactic he loved during his run for office—seemed to confirm that analysis. The 20-minute interview with Pirro featured criticism of an opponent he defeated over 15 months ago, a hand-waving dismissal of questions about Russian influence, the continued selling of his proposal to arm teachers, and a notable lack of follow-up questions.

ICYMI: In Parkland, journalism students take on role of reporter and survivor

Trump’s Twitter feed and his love-hate relationship with the nation’s influential newspapers have offered a window into his thinking, and he’s received praise for his willingness to take occasional questions at pool sprays. But by shunning the spotlight that comes with aggressive questioning on a broadcast outlet not engaged in active cheerleading for his administration, he has managed to avoid being pressed on some of the most important and controversial issues of his presidency.

At the end of her interview on Saturday, Pirro offered a note of unmitigated praise. “Congratulations on your approval ratings, on CPAC, and on all of the success you’ve had,” she told Trump. “My viewers are just thrilled that you came on.” Viewers who don’t tune into Pirro’s weekly White House pep rally would surely appreciate a similar—and on-camera—appearance.

Sign up for CJR's daily email

Below, more on Trump’s media availability and his never-ending campaign. 

  • Phone interview tactics: The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers writes that Trump “bulldozed” Pirro, continuously talking over her questions and demonstrating why he prefers the format.
  • Friendly crowds: On Sunday’s Reliable Sources, CNN’s Brian Stelter led a roundtable on Trump’s avoidance of tough questioning and embrace of a “fantasyland” environment.
  • Measuring up: Trump’s single solo press conference in his first year fell far short of his predecessors, USA Today’s Jessica Estepa noted.


Other notable stories

  • Journalists from The New York Times and the New Orleans Times-Picayune teamed up to report on an environmental crisis facing the Gulf Coast. The ambitious partnership showcased the potential for collaboration between national outlets and reporters with local expertise. “The big institutions like The New York Times can’t just talk about the crisis of local journalism around the country,” Executive Editor Dean Baquet said. “I think we should do something.”
  • As guaranteed payments to media outlets for Facebook Live videos ended, “videos produced by paid partners more than halved by the end of 2017—and in one case fell by as much as 94 percent,” reports the Tow Center’s Pete Brown for CJR.
  • In the March issue of Vanity Fair, Monica Lewinsky embraces the #MeToo movement 20 years after the scandal that rocked President Clinton’s administration.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s Lukas I. Alpert, Mark Maremont, and Rebecca Davis O’Brien have a deep dive into the “unravelling” at Newsweek amid an ongoing fraud probe into the magazine’s ownership group.
  • CJR’s Justin Ray spoke with GQ’s Zach Baron about his news-making profile of actor Brendan Fraser. Baron says that Fraser’s phone call to discuss a groping allegation came just days before the issue went to print.

 ICYMI: Facebook’s increasing threat to journalism

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

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