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After Trump's Victory, Questions Remain About How He Will Handle The Press


When Donald Trump went to the White House today, his staff and his wife joined him. The press corps covering him did not. This is just one of the many ways that Donald Trump has broken the norms of how a candidate and now a president-elect deals with the media.

During the campaign, Trump described journalists as dishonest, disgusting and corrupt. He threatened to take newspapers to court and to change libel laws to make it easier to sue. NPR's David Folkenflik joins us now to discuss what to expect from the relationship between a President Trump and the White House press corps. Hey, David.


SHAPIRO: Trump, as we said, often vilified the media. He kept reporters at arm's length and has not held a traditional press conference since late July. Do you expect that chilly relationship to continue once he's president?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's in a sense hard to imagine it wasn't by a dint of thinking about the campaign. He made the press an antagonist. He placed it squarely in the middle of the establishment that he promised to rhetorically explode. And he was, you know, hostile to notions of transparency and even being questioned.

You talked about threats to sue. One of the threats to sue was against Jeff Bezos and to say - to suggest in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News back in May that he might go after Amazon, of which Jeff Bezos is the CEO and the founder, because of the fact that reporters on The Washington Post, which Bezos owns individually, were asking a lot of what he thought were impertinent questions. So that's a pretty big power to swing if you're president United States.

That said, you know, there have been some suggestions of accommodations late this afternoon. Reporters were told that they would create what - a sort of traveling pool that would accompany the new president where he goes. And a lot of reporters are sensitive to what happens in moments of crisis. Think 9/11 - President Bush down in Florida away from Washington, D.C.

There are questions of transition of power. You know, if major figures in government are knocked out, these are things reporters take very seriously. Trump seems to be giving some signaling that he may make some accommodations there.

SHAPIRO: Of course Donald Trump has a long history with the media. He was a reality TV star. He's been in the tabloid spotlight for decades. Do you think that in any way shapes the way that he approaches the political press corps?

FOLKENFLIK: Close to a hundred percent shapes the way he thinks about the media generally.


FOLKENFLIK: You know, he's a guy who at once is very hostile rhetorically towards the press and seems to mean it. And at the same time, you know, his candidacy would have withered without it, without just a relentless series of interviews, particularly during the primary season in all kinds of outlets, all kinds of shows and publications and also the incredible accessibility he offered them.

And in addition, you know, it's what enabled him to have a hundred percent name recognition and enabled him to not spend very much in advertising at all. This was a very skeletal operation, very cost-effective. He didn't run a lot of ads. He didn't have to because he was able to get so much airtime from these media organizations that he often vilifies.

SHAPIRO: The hostility in this relationship does seem to go both ways. Lots of journalists have said and written negative things about Trump. By one count, 26 newspapers and magazines endorsed him while more than 500 endorsed his opponents. Do you expect that the White House press corps will cover Trump differently than it has other presidents?

FOLKENFLIK: I think we're going to have to see. I think we're going to have to see the degree to which they cover him just conventionally as sort of a skeptical and adversarial - notionally but actually sort of willing to take him at his - at what he does and at his word, whether they're going to cover him in a more aggressive, muscular investigative style because oftentimes Trump's words and his deeds do not align as we've seen in his business life as the result of some really intense and aerobic reporting by places like the Washington Post.

And I think we're going to see whether or not he holds them at such arm's length that they're not able to do things on their own and able to sort of circumvent the controls placed on them by the Trump administration and also by the precedent of other White Houses that have tried to hold the press at arm's length.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly - any other clues you can take from his campaign about how the Trump White House might deal with the press for the next four or eight years?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think we should look at who he's going to surround himself with, you know? There are reports today, for example, that Steve Bannon, the CEO of the - what can be called the alt-right news site Breitbart is the person that Mr. Trump favors to become the chief of staff.

He's somebody who, while being a creature of the media - very much a right-of-center creature at that and very hostile to mainstream media - similar figures like Rudolph Giuliani, Newt Gingrich - if these people hold major roles in this administration, these are people who are very, in some ways, antipathetic to the media even as they've been featured frequently in it.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.