THE PAPER OF “GOTCHA!”
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