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Trump Attacks The Media As 'Dishonest'


President Trump's press conference yesterday was long. It was freewheeling. The president often went on tangents after questions, at one point spending several minutes talking about the fact that he believes he didn't get a fair shake during the presidential debates. But it was clear Trump called the press conference to do two things - first, to defend his administration, despite a series of missteps, and secondly, to attack the media. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik was watching all this, and he joins us now.

Good morning, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: This was bizarre to watch...

FOLKENFLIK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...Because most of the time, the president was lambasting the press, calling the media very dishonest people. But then, at one point, he did extend an olive branch to the press. Let's listen to that.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And I hope going forward we can be a little bit different and maybe get along a little bit better, if that's possible. Maybe it's not, and that's OK, too. Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles, in particular, speaks not for the people but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system.

MARTIN: So David, what's he talking about there?

FOLKENFLIK: I think that falls under the category of olive-branch-not-olive-branch.



MARTIN: ...Not so (unintelligible).

FOLKENFLIK: You know, let's start with this. I have no idea what he means about the Los Angeles media. I'm not sure if he's talking about the Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter, La Opinion - not clear. You know, you're talking about the swamp that he attacked on the campaign trail. The Wall Street Journal this week did a pair of stories about lobbyists in Washington and sort of peeled back the layer of a seeming kind of corruption there.

The New York Times and The Washington Post have been doing deep dives on figures who have done activities behind closed doors or on phones that have been perhaps controversial for the public. A lot of those figures involve people with close associations to Trump, perhaps his own nominees or appointments. So it seems to me that the press, in some ways, is doing its job. And while it is, in some ways, part of the Washington establishment, not clear to me how simply by doing coverage that he often finds uncomfortable, that constitutes it being part of the swamp.


So a lot of presidents have had a hard time dealing with leaks - right? Donald Trump said in that press conference he was going to go after the leakers who are putting out classified information. But what luck have past presidents had in managing this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look, these days when leaks are investigated, they tend to find the source of them. The technology is such that the same kind of investigative techniques that the NSA uses to monitor things abroad can be used here at home. And it usually ends in tears for pretty much all concerned. You find that sources are prosecuted. Folks under both the Bush administration, the Obama administration found that their contacts with reporters were identified. And it meant that it was a terrible pinch on not just the sources but on the reporters. And yet, leaks have obviously kept on coming in these early days of the Trump administration.

MARTIN: So on the one hand, President Trump said he wants to prosecute people for leaking sensitive national security information. And yet, at the same time yesterday, he was casting doubt on the credibility of news reports that relied on those very leaks. So how do you make sense of that?

FOLKENFLIK: I don't know that you can. It's like a Mobius strip of logic there. That contradiction was raised explicitly during yesterday's press conference. Here's ABC's Jonathan Karl.


JONATHAN KARL: On the leaks, is it fake news, or are these real leaks?

TRUMP: Well, the leaks are real. You're the one that wrote about them and reported them. I mean, the leaks are real. You know what they said. You saw it. And the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.

FOLKENFLIK: What you're hearing there is Trump, once more, trying to cut the ground from under the people who are paid to ask tough questions of him and hold him up to scrutiny. On an emotional level, Trump simply isn't able to let his grievances go, even with the full weight of government upon him, as we can hear in this cut.


TRUMP: I don't mind bad stories. I can handle a bad story better than anybody - as long as it's true. And, you know, over a course of time, I'll make mistakes, and you'll write badly. And I'm OK with that. But I'm not OK when it is fake. I mean, I watch CNN. It's so much anger and hatred and just the hatred. I don't watch it anymore.

MARTIN: But is that true? I mean, he watches TV all the time. He cites it on Twitter all the time.

FOLKENFLIK: And in that press conference, he went on to give an almost Talmudic dissection of Don Lemon's show at 10 o'clock on CNN. So you know, he clearly is watching. What you see here is both a performance that's attempting to change the subject from a lot of his, as you called it, missteps...


FOLKENFLIK: ...And, at the same time, an expression of where Trump is actually coming with the frustrations on a day-to-day level.

MARTIN: 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.