White House

When Trump Slams the Media, It's an Act of Love

I've been wooed by him and sued by him, so I should know.

Saying "Cheese!"

Photographer: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to slam the press:

It wasn't clear what provoked this latest of Trump's serial outbursts against the news media. But his display of indignation made me chuckle. The president, tugged incessantly by a host of wide-ranging insecurities, has always craved the spotlight and cultivated those who could place him in its glow.

When he launched his first big Manhattan project, the Grand Hyatt Hotel, in the late 1970s, he convinced New York's mayor and other political leaders to help him promote the project to the press.

A Town & Country profile of Trump in 1983 explained that New York mattered to the 37-year-old builder because he was hungry "to make a splash in the media capital of the world."

As he went on to build Trump Tower and then launch an ill-considered acquisitions binge that almost bankrupted him, Trump learned how to lobby and entice gossip columnists, business reporters, talk show hosts and other influentials. Exaggerating, fibbing, lying and spinning accompanied his salvos.

"One thing I've learned about the press is that they're always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better," he noted when he published "The Art of the Deal" in 1987. "The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you."

That same year, the guiding hand of "Doonesbury," Garry Trudeau, situated Trump at a press conference where a cartoon version of the aspiring politician told reporters that pursuing a presidential bid was just "a billionaire developer exercising his right to float trial balloons."

Trump also sometimes called reporters and famously pretended to be a flack named "John Barron" (or occasionally "John Miller"), using both guises to promote himself as a ladies' man, an infallible dealmaker and a tough-minded negotiator. He also affected what he described as a laissez-faire attitude toward his coverage.

"I've had times where I get good press, I've had times when I get bad press," Trump told me in 2005 while I was spending many hours with him doing reporting for "TrumpNation," a biography. "Regardless, it only lasts for a certain period of time. More so for me than for others."

He had a few more observations to share with me: "The press is very powerful but it lasts for, both good and bad, lasts for a finite period of time. The one thing about the press is that it's fleeting. It's Fleet Street. You know, that's why they called it Fleet Street. You know that, right? I just actually made that up."

Between 2003 and the middle of 2005 or so, Trump called me many times a week, sent me letters stuffed with press clippings, invited me aboard his jet and into his homes and office, took me on tours of his golf courses, and even shared his favorite meal (meatloaf) with me and his then-fiancée, Melania, at his club in Palm Beach, Florida. Then he sued me for libel and between 2006 and 2011 we had lots of contact with each other through our lawyers until he lost the case.

And here's the thing: For Trump, tending to me like a hothouse plant wasn't an unusual act. He's addicted to attention and the media is one of his fixes. It's never, ever been hard to get close to him. Until 2015, you could just call Trump Tower and he'd pick up the phone.

We saw all of this on full display during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he alternately lambasted reporters and then invited the same ones into his office for cozy chats.

So when Trump lashes out at the press, as he did on Tuesday, it's not really hatred at work, or a belief that that folks writing "books" and "major articles" don't know anything about him.

After all, during the last month or so the media has demonstrated that it knows quite a bit about POTUS and his family:

  • A pair of Bloomberg News reporters, David Kocieniewski and Caleb Melby, outlined the myriad financial pressures facing the family of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as it tries to refinance a troubled office tower it owns on Fifth Avenue.
  • Two other Bloomberg News reporters, Greg Farrell and Christian Berthelsen, described how the Justice Department's special counsel, Robert Mueller, was expanding his investigation of possible ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia to include the president's business and financial dealings.
  • A McClatchy reporter, Anita Kumar, revealed that despite the Trump Organization's promise not to pursue any foreign deals during its owner's presidency, the company is partnering with a firm that the Chinese government controls.
  • A Mother Jones columnist, David Corn, revisited the president's tangled business relationship with a career criminal, Felix Sater.
  • A New Yorker writer, Adam Davidson, outlined Trump's murky deals in the Republic of Georgia.
  • A pair of Washington Post reporters, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker, offered a portrait of the Oval Office occupant coming to a boil after being forced to manage the West Wing like an adult.
  • A team of Wall Street Journal reporters let us know that Trump's own lawyers considered Kushner a legal liability and pondered trying to eject him from the White House.
  • A group of Daily Beast reporters learned that Russian operatives used false identities on Facebook to launch anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political protests in the U.S. as part of the Kremlin's effort to tilt the 2016 election to Trump.
  • A pair of New York Times reporters, Matt Apuzzo and Maggie Haberman, published emails that elaborated on the Trump Organization's push, during the presidential campaign, to get a skyscraper built in Moscow.
  • A team of USA Today reporters dug through membership rosters at Trump's golf clubs to offer a portrait of how pay-to-play apparently works in the Trump White House.
  • A Business Insider reporter, Natasha Bertrand, wrote a series of articles that displayed the president's new lead counsel, Ty Cobb, acting in bizarrely off-kilter ways.
  • A Vice News correspondent, Elle Reeve, produced a jarring video account of the violent Charlottesville, Virginia, protests that highlighted the racial animosity animating part of the president's political base.
  • A Politico writer, Michael Kruse, answered the riddle of why a city guy like Trump hates cities so much.
  • An NBC News correspondent, Katy Tur, released a new book, "Unbelievable," that offers a detailed account of the challenges and abuses she faced while covering Trump during the 2016 campaign.

While Tur's may be one of the books the president had in mind when he slagged the media on Twitter Tuesday (Haberman also has a book in the works), let's remember that Trump's not rattling his saber because reporters "know nothing" about him. He's acting up because reporters know too much.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Timothy L. O'Brien at tobrien46@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net

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