Talk­ing right

Amer­i­cans get a dif­fer­ent view when Trump meets with con­ser­va­tive jour­nal­ists

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Cal Thomas Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist. His lat­est book is “What Works: Com­mon Sense So­lu­tions for a Stronger Amer­ica” (Zon­der­van, 2014).

Pres­i­dent Trump did something Monday I have long ad­vo­cated. He met with a small group of con­ser­va­tive jour­nal­ists, pun­dits and ra­dio talk show hosts. I was among them. Af­ter tick­ing off a list of what he said were his ac­com­plish­ments lead­ing up to the ar­bi­trary 100-day marker of his pres­i­dency, we asked him ques­tions.

What dif­fered from the crowd of lib­eral jour­nal­ists who ask ques­tions dur­ing for­mal news con­fer­ences — and those who toss ques­tions at his spokesman, Sean Spicer, at the daily press brief­ing — is that our group asked ques­tions with the in­tent of get­ting in­for­ma­tion, in­stead of the ac­cusatory tone and “gotcha” ques­tions that of­ten char­ac­ter­ize what has come to be known as the main­stream me­dia.

The ses­sion was sup­posed to be on “back­ground,” mean­ing the pres­i­dent could not be quoted, but half­way through he de­clared it on the record, which is how news broke of his de­ci­sion to im­pose a 20 per­cent tar­iff on Cana­dian lum­ber en­ter­ing the United States. Mr. Trump said it is “un­fair” for the Cana­dian lum­ber in­dus­try to re­ceive govern­ment sub­si­dies. Rec­i­proc­ity, he called it, “a word I like.”

The ques­tions were sub­stan­tive, in­clud­ing mine about North Korea (“Given your stated bud­ding friend­ship with China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and what you say are his ef­forts to dis­suade North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram, would you say war is less likely, or about as likely?”) The pres­i­dent said he doesn’t dis­cuss mil­i­tary mat­ters in public, but in his an­swer to my follow-up ques­tion he said he’s not sure some of the ar­ma­ments re­cently pa­raded through the streets of Py­ongyang are real, “but we’ll see.”

Con­ser­va­tives should not be lap­dogs for a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent. No one asked the types of soft­ball ques­tions the me­dia usu­ally toss at a Demo­cratic pres­i­dent. The pres­i­dent told us he doesn’t ex­pect to be free of crit­i­cism, but ap­pre­ci­ates fair­ness. He al­lowed that con­ser­va­tive jour­nal­ists are likely to be fairer to him than those his strate­gist, Steve Ban­non, has called “the en­emy” and “opposition party.” A side note: Mr. Ban­non stood off to the side at our meet­ing with the pres­i­dent, fre­quently smil­ing.

Ev­i­dence that the ma­jor me­dia tilt left is un­de­ni­able. The Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter, a con­ser­va­tive me­dia watch­dog or­ga­ni­za­tion, has cal­cu­lated that dur­ing the first 30 days of his pres­i­dency “the pres­i­dent and his team were the sub­ject of 16 hours of cov­er­age on just the Big Three evening news­casts, or more than half (54 per­cent) of all of the news cov­er­age dur­ing this pe­riod. And while most new pres­i­dents en­joy a me­dia hon­ey­moon, the tone of Trump’s cov­er­age was nearly as hos­tile (88 per­cent neg­a­tive) as we found dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign (91 per­cent neg­a­tive).”

The New York Times on Tuesday pro­vided a use­ful ser­vice. It car­ried a story not­ing how dif­fer­ently con­ser­va­tive and lib­eral re­porters and com­men­ta­tors have treated Mr. Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Read­ing these sug­gests not just dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, but dif­fer­ent re­al­i­ties.

The mini news con­fer­ence ended with a prom­ise by a White House staff mem­ber that there would be more of these gath­er­ings. They seem to be an out­growth of Sean Spicer’s strat­egy to broaden me­dia ac­cess be­yond the usual col­lec­tion of lib­eral jour­nal­ists and even be­yond Wash­ing­ton, as he does with oc­ca­sional ques­tions via Skype from re­porters and an­chors in other cities. Most of these have also been sub­stan­tive and re­flect is­sues and per­spec­tives from out­side the Wash­ing­ton Beltway.

While some re­porters have groused about this ex­er­cise in ide­o­log­i­cal plu­ral­ism, the public is get­ting more in­for­ma­tion and a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive than what they are used to. That can only be good for the coun­try, for con­ser­va­tive jour­nal­ists who are of­ten ig­nored by the ma­jor me­dia, and for the pres­i­dent.

Con­ser­va­tives should not be lap­dogs for a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent. No one asked the types of soft­ball ques­tions the me­dia usu­ally toss at a Demo­cratic pres­i­dent.


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