Esquire (USA) - - The Code -

is un­fa­vor­able to Trump. “Well, fake news is news that’s made up,” he said. “I mean, fab­ri­cated. I’ll give you an ex­am­ple. I was in the of­fice re­cently, in the Oval Of­fice, with a group of busi­ness­peo­ple. And on the tele­vi­sion, we were watch­ing some­thing where they were show­ing me. And they had a re­porter out from CNN say­ing, ‘He’s up­stairs in his suite at the White House brood­ing, and walk­ing the halls.’ And here I am in the of­fice, where I’m laugh­ing with a very im­por­tant group of traders, be­cause we’re try­ing to get great trade deals for this coun­try, and these were peo­ple who were work­ing on that, and in two cases rep­re­sent­ing other coun­tries, and we’re down there hav­ing a re­ally good talk, and a very in­ter­est­ing one, and hav­ing a good time, ac­tu­ally, be­cause we en­joyed what we did, and if you watched CNN, I was up walk­ing the hall­ways, brood­ing. And they’re al­ways do­ing that. They’re al­ways say­ing, ‘He’s brood­ing, he’s an­gry,’ and I’m not! You know, I know how life goes. I get life bet­ter than a lot of peo­ple. I mean, I just get it. And I even un­der­stand where they’re com­ing from. But the prob­lem is, it’s very dis­hon­est, re­ally dis­hon­est.”

But through the course of our con­ver­sa­tion, it be­came clear that Trump makes no mean­ing­ful dis­tinc­tion be­tween, say, the dis­puted BUZZFEED story about Michael Co­hen and news re­ports that are jour­nal­is­ti­cally sound but neg­a­tive to Trump. The vast ma­jor­ity of news re­ports in the Trump era fit into that lat­ter cat­e­gory. He has claimed that 90 per­cent of cov­er­age of him is neg­a­tive, which may be an­other of his sig­na­ture ex­ag­ger­a­tions. But a study by the non­par­ti­san Pew Re­search Cen­ter of press and TV cov­er­age of Trump’s first sixty days in of­fice found that 62 per­cent of sto­ries about him were neg­a­tive, com­pared with 20 per­cent for Barack Obama across his first sixty days and 28 per­cent for both Ge­orge W. Bush and Bill Clin­ton. Whether that dis­crep­ancy is due to bias or the uniquely tu­mul­tuous na­ture of Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion or some com­bi­na­tion of the two will have to re­main in the eye of the be­holder.

Trump seems gen­uinely be­mused by his neg­a­tive press. “I was sur­prised at some peo­ple that I’d al­ways found to be fair, and all of a sud­den they had a very dif­fer­ent bent,” he said. This is ow­ing, per­haps, to the fact that in his life be­fore pol­i­tics, Trump’s me­dia pro­file was shaped largely by him­self. In that New York ver­sion, Trump was the col­or­ful, if slightly gar­ish, op­er­a­tor whose life­style—the he­li­copters and planes, the ho­tels and casi­nos, the wives and girl­friends—was the tabloid ideal. His ex­ploits sold pa­pers, and the pub­lic­ity helped make his name an in­deli­ble brand.

The fun stopped when Trump an­nounced his run for the White House. He thinks it’s be­cause he ran as a con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can: “I used to get great press un­til I an­nounced that I was gonna run . . . and the fact that you’re run­ning as a Repub­li­can con­ser­va­tive, au­to­mat­i­cally, they put you be­hind the eight ball.” While it’s true that the news me­dia are not known to be fa­vor­ably in­clined to­ward con­ser­va­tive poli­cies, the neg­a­tive re­ac­tion to Trump had more to do with the per­son of Trump—and es­pe­cially his words, his ag­gres­sive hy­per­bole and ver­bal brush­back pitches—than with pol­icy pre­scrip­tions. Mag­gie Haber­man’s writ­ing about a col­or­ful Queens real es­tate de­vel­oper for the New York Post is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent in tone and sub­stance from Mag­gie Haber­man’s re­port­ing about the pres­i­dent of the United States for The New York Times. That is par­tic­u­larly true if the pres­i­dent con­tin­ues to talk and be­have like a de­vel­oper from Queens.

It is the lo­cal boy who an­guishes over the tough cov­er­age he’s re­ceived from the Times, his home­town pa­per. “I came from Ja­maica, Queens, Ja­maica Es­tates, and I be­came pres­i­dent of the United States,” Trump re­minded Times pub­lisher A. G. Sulzberger dur­ing a Jan­uary sit-down in the Oval Of­fice. “I’m sort of en­ti­tled to a great story—just one—from my news­pa­per.”

Stephen K. Ban­non, Trump’s for­mer chief strate­gist, told me his old boss longs for the re­spectabil­ity con­veyed by the Times—the one pa­per, Ban­non said, that Trump reads ev­ery day, cover to cover. “He looked at me one time and he said, ‘You know, in all those years in New York, I had five page-one sto­ries in the Times,’ ” Ban­non re­cently re­called. “And he looked at the pa­per that day and there were lit­er­ally five sto­ries about him that day on the front page. And I said, ‘Here’s the prob­lem—they all suck.’ ”

Ban­non cited a day with Trump not long af­ter the elec­tion when, he said, the Times was “just fuck­ing ham­mer­ing” the pres­i­dent-elect and pro­test­ers were gath­er­ing daily out­side Trump Tower. “He says, ‘You know, I thought it would be dif­fer­ent. Ev­ery­body would come to­gether and say, Let’s work to­gether and unify the coun­try, and they’d kinda con­grat­u­late me that I won a hard-fought cam­paign.’ I said, ‘You’re kid­ding me, right?’ He said, ‘No, isn’t that what hap­pens?’ He thinks he’s in a movie. It was so en­dear­ing.”

Since mov­ing into the White House, Trump has added his new lo­cal pa­per to his list of ir­ri­tants. “I’m try­ing to fig­ure out which is worse,” he told me, “the Times or The Wash­ing­ton Post.” On the day we spoke, he was stew­ing over a

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