The new year is starting off right where 2017 left off, as far as the White House’s relationship with the news media is concerned: Combustible at best and irreparably shattered at worst.
Just four days into 2018, President Trump and White House officials have taunted the press in ways that signal a long haul for journalists in 2018.
During the White House press briefing Thursday, for example, reporter Brian Karen asked spokeswoman Sarah Sanders about the president’s upcoming medical physical exam and admitted his “ignorance” on whether or not it would include any type of mental health evaluation.
“I mean, if you want to call yourself ignorant, I’m not going to argue,” Sanders quipped.
The previous day, President Trump tweeted that next week he would hand out "awards" for “the most dishonest & corrupt media."
Asked to clarify the tweet on Fox News, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had no further details, but said, “I’ve seen this many times, that folks are very bold on social media against the president, very bold on cable TV against the president and then when they’re in his company, the knees start knocking.” She added, “In the meantime, I think the New Year's resolution should be more fair and accurate reporting.”
The sniping is far from one-sided. On Wednesday, the Guardian and New York magazine both published excerpts from an upcoming book on the White House by journalist Michael Wolff, which, according to the excerpts, repeatedly suggested that Trump is in mental decline.
The book also included quotes from ousted White House adviser Steve Bannon wherein he criticized Trump and his children, and asserted that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation will implicate Trump by uncovering a money laundering scheme.
Though Bannon is the chairman of the pro-Trump Breitbart News website, the White House released a statement striking back.
“Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was,” the statement said. “It is the only thing he does well.”
Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” included other insults between the president and the media. In one anecdote, Trump described New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman as “a nut job.”
In another, Trump and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose company owns Fox News, ended a phone conversation, and after hanging up, Murdoch described Trump as “fucking idiot.”
The book itself led to a separate statement from the White House.
“This book is filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House,” it said.
The New York Times on Tuesday ran a column by the paper’s new publisher, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, affirming the Times would “hold itself to the highest standards of independence, rigor and fairness…”
Trump went on Twitter that morning to mock the piece. “Get impartial journalists of a much higher standard, lose all of your phony and non-existent ‘sources,’ and treat the President of the United States FAIRLY, so that the next time I (and the people) win, you won’t have to write an apology to your readers for a job poorly done! [Good luck],” he said in a pair of tweets.
His comments came just five days after Trump had given an impromptu 30-minute interview to the Times. But even then, he couldn't seem to help himself.
In discussing his plan to run for reelection in 2020, Trump said, “Without me, the New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”