AFTER HAVING MADE OBAMA IN 2008, THE POLITICO HAS CHOSEN THE FORM OF THEIR DESTRUCTOR.
There was a telling confrontation on Obama’s third day in office, when he visited the West Wing pressroom to say hi, then bristled when a Politico reporter asked why he had nominated a Raytheon lobbyist to a Pentagon job despite having recently banned lobbyists from top posts in his administration. “I can’t end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I’m going to get grilled every time I come down here,” Obama complained. When the reporter tried again, Obama told him to save his questions for a news conference. Politico’s headline: “Obama Flashes Irritation in the Press Room.” To the president, it was an example of no good deed going unpunished—not just that he was grilled when he was trying to be polite, but that he was grilled over an exception to his rule against hiring lobbyists instead of credited for the groundbreaking rule. To the reporters, it was an early example of Obama feeling entitled to avoid probing questions about matters of public importance. They wouldn’t see much more of him in the press room.
— “The Selling of Obama — The inside story of how a great communicator lost the narrative,” Michael Grunwald, the Politico, today.
Still, the baseline hostility between campaign and press corps was dictated by the candidate himself, and from the start Trump, often through his alter ego Lewandowski, sought to dominate and demean us. And besides, it quickly became clear that the campaign didn’t need more conventional tools of media management, given that its messaging operation primarily consisted of Trump’s mouth—and he often said outrageous and provocative things that guaranteed negative coverage.
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For all its brass, though, the New York tabloid environment is insular, small and transactional, with an established set of protocols and a relatively limited cast of characters. Trump has a great instinct for what will hit, and has always served as his own publicist, cultivating relationships with reporters who play ball, planting tips, navigating negative stories through sheer bombast, ditching anyone who causes too much trouble—often by feeding scoops to competitors at their own organizations.
But the national press is much, much bigger and much harder to control. And it probably doesn’t help that, at 69, Trump faces a press pack chock full of millennials he’s never dealt with before. Ali Vitali at NBC, Sopan Deb at CBS, Jeremy Diamond and Noah Gray at CNN, and Kevin Cirilli at Bloomberg are all around my age—a few years out of college. It makes for a volatile mix, and might help explain Trump’s zigzag path between flattering and threatening, avoiding and bulldozing reporters as he searched out the elusive route to controlling our message.
Which is why if there’s one consistent theme to what I’ve experienced covering Trump, it’s the unpredictability. The handshakes sometimes come after the hardest slaps, and the doghouse is a short elevator ride away from the penthouse.
— “Inside Trump’s Press Pen — A reporter’s first campaign job blows up into the biggest story in America,” 26 year old Ben Schreckinger, in way too deep at the Politico and apparently forgetting Saul Alinsky’s Rule #5, Rule 12, and a few other Rules for Radicals as well.
(Classical reference in headline.)