Uneventful flight on AF1. Except for the 70-minute Trump off-the-record with fake news reporters.
— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) July 13, 2017
Off-the-record conversation with Trump, huh? Somehow the president greenlighted an on-the-record chat this week with Pat Robertson, he of “The 700 Club” on the Christian Broadcasting Network. “We are the most powerful country in the world and we are getting more and more powerful because I’m a big military person,” Trump told Robertson as part of an explanation as to why Russian President Vladimir Putin would have preferred to have Hillary Clinton in the White House. And Trump also made some on-the-record time for Reuters.
Switching to an off-the-record footing on an Air Force One flight doesn’t distance Trump from predecessors. President Barack Obama did the same thing. And an aide to President Bill Clinton stipulated that one of his Air Force One bull sessions with journalists proceed on “psych-background.” Trump will take some questions from the media during an appearance with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Yet there can be no equivalence here. Trump has gone four months without a formal solo news conference, while dispersing thoughts about the “fake news” media being the “enemy” of the people; his aides have crippled the White House press briefing by banning cameras and prohibiting real-time audio; he and his people continue attempting to discredit the news media, yet love to cite it when the news is good; and Republican operatives are reportedly contemplating another level of anti-media operations.
So why would Trump while away 70 minutes with this hateful crowd? Because, in the words of a former tabloid reporter who covered Trump, chatting with media types “offer[s] so many opportunities for him to gaze at the person he loves most.”
And it appears that Trump enjoyed his own remarks enough to wonder why they weren’t being published. A pool report from Maggie Haberman of the New York Times — who is writing pool reports on Trump’s France visit — raises the question as to whether this is the first time in U.S. history that a president has sought to move off-the-record remarks to an on-the-record basis: “POTUS asked your pooler why she didn’t use what he has said last night. Your pooler reminded him last night was off the record. POTUS asked if I had heard him say it could be on-record; your pooler replied truthfully no (co-poolers also were not under impression it was on-record, since Sarah Sanders had declared it off record).”
Trump wanted his 70-minutes with reporters on AF1 last night on the record?!? Via @maggieNYT’s latest pool note: pic.twitter.com/M4iLLvoN75
— Eli Stokols (@EliStokols) July 13, 2017
Update: Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells the Erik Wemple Blog via email: “The conversation was off the record but we are going to put out excerpts of the conversation.” That’s a strange pledge. Did the White House record the off-the-record session? Isn’t it the job of journalists to publish the interview? And how will the journalists agree to publish only excerpts? That would appear to resemble the much-dreaded practice of quote approval.