Op-ed: Trump won the news conference

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, January 14, 2017 9:34pm
  • Opinion

Donald Trump should do press conferences more often. Not for the country’s sake, certainly not for the media’s sake, but for his. He really shouldn’t have waited 167-plus days to hold one, because the man gives great sound bite. Although I’ve participated in probably thousands of these staged encounters as a reporter, they’re not my favorite way of getting news — you almost never get any. The guy at the podium controls the proceeding. He can get his message out with little challenge from the assembled journalists who are limited to a question and a follow-up, maybe. Politicians can bob and weave through that without any of us landing a blow. And that’s our job: to penetrate the canned responses to their version of the controversy du jour and get at whatever truth they are hiding. Besides, Trump — who uses contempt for the media as a weapon, his preferred way to discredit reporting that displeases him —has a wonderful forum to do that. At the very least he should hold these confrontations as a supplement to his Twitter tirades. And frequently. It’s his opportunity to hold the media hostage as they cover live his rain of abuse on them.

It doesn’t matter that his spiel is a total crock; he communicates in ways that the American people can relate to. Never mind that he was grossly unfair when he placed CNN and BuzzFeed in the same despicable basket. BuzzFeed released details of a dossier filled with unverifiable facts and violated a cardinal rule for any organization that purports to be journalistic: If you don’t have it, don’t report it. BuzzFeed didn’t have anything more than salacious information that everyone else possessed but stayed away from for months because they couldn’t corroborate it. Not only that, but it had been accumulated by agents working for opposition research units who were hired guns for various anti-Trump forces. These “oppo” slimebags exist on all sides. They are an established part of the seamy netherworld of politics. But they are not reliable sources when they peddle their smut. Any reporter has to independently verify that it’s real garbage instead of phony garbage. BuzzFeed didn’t concern itself with that, saying the public could decide for itself. That exhibits an ignorance of what news coverage is about. CNN, on the other hand, merely reported that an intelligence briefer had presented information about this sleazy dossier to both President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump. That’s all. But somehow, Trump has decided that CNN is a handy target and derided the network’s work as “fake news.” I worked at CNN for a couple of decades, and usually avoid commenting about the company. But in this case I must argue that its limited reporting here was valid. And his treatment of the CNN correspondent who tried to ask a question was bullying, pure and simple. But again, well-delivered.

He even made sly fun of the most gross of the accusations, which we won’t be discussing here, by saying that they couldn’t be true, because he’s a “germaphobe.” Let your imagination be your guide.

He also unveiled a total sham plan that purported to be a shield against conflicts of interest with his vast business empire while he’s president. The federal government’s chief of ethics, Walter Shaub, was blunt about it, saying Trump’s so-called protections were “meaningless.”

On and on it went. There’s nothing elegant about him, but Donald Trump manages to be both inarticulate and glib at the same time, convincingly presenting himself as already in charge with nice-sounding solutions that just happen to be impossible. His appeal is to those who don’t want to do too much thinking, which is most Americans who are really tired of all the experts with their complicated answers that have largely made our problems worse. With his angry way of presenting himself, he speaks to a nation that shares that anger, so Trump uses news conferences to great effect.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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