Last night, Donald Trump — who hasn’t given a press conference since July, when he asked the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails — catered what looks like was a pretty terrible dinner for the press last night.
Trump himself even stopped by for half an hour to talk with reporters, but it was off-the-record, so we may never know what was in these bowls.
They also served Trump wine, because the press apparently hasn’t suffered enough.
Off the record dinners are not that unusual. The press also held one with John Podesta during the campaign, much to the chagrin of conservatives. I’m not even that mad about it, because having seen what Katy Tur and the rest of the traveling press corp had to suffer through during the course of the campaign, I can understand why a free dinner might look appealing. And off-the-record is better than nothing, right? The reporters might learn something from the dinner that may inform another story. Even when it comes to the President, reporters are wise to build a relationship with their subjects.
It’s different, however, with Trump, who has been openly hostile with the media, who attempts at every turn to delegitimize them, and who often sics his supporters on the press (see again, Katy Tur, who had to have Secret Service protection during the campaign).
Or maybe this was an instance where Trump took the words of Obama at his press conference on Friday to heart, and decided he’d like to attempt to pivot from campaign mode to governing mode. I mean, he is owning up to the fact that his supporters were “mean and vicious” during the campaign, and this might have been his weird way of asking his supporters to mellow out.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that all of that is true. Trump is turning a corner into governing mode and he wanted a fresh start; he press would rather have off the record access than no access; and they are hungry and really wanted a free meal.
That still does not excuse taking a chummy photo with Trump.
That’s gross. Don’t treat a guy who has been hostile toward you for two years like a goddamn celebrity. Don’t schmooze with the fucking enemy. I mean, this is journalism 101, people. You ever see any chummy photos of Bob Woodward and Richard Nixon? No, because that’s gross.
We can debate the wisdom of attending an off the record dinner with Trump, but posing for a chummy photo seems like …not the best idea.— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) December 19, 2016
But a reminder: Trump hasn't held a press conference since July. That puts this dinner in a different light.— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) December 19, 2016
You could argue accepting such an invitation is a tacit approval of Trump flouting the norms of our democracy, like press conferences.— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) December 19, 2016
Folks on Twitter were not pleased, and rightfully so.
Reporters shouldn't pal around off-the-record with Trump until he agrees to have a public, on-the-record news conference. Grow a backbone https://t.co/3Tb59y7g4M— Will Bunch (@Will_Bunch) December 19, 2016
letting Trump go off the record is insane and spineless https://t.co/fwStJqco8A— Ashley Feinberg (@ashleyfeinberg) December 19, 2016
Every person in this photo should be ashamed of themselves. https://t.co/nxSUgp9Aw2— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) December 19, 2016
You literally traded journalistic credibility for a ham sandwich @mikeallen— The Hall Decker ☭ (@BillionaireDad) December 19, 2016
since we know from email coverage the press cares about "optics," the optics of doing off the record w trump w/o presser are bad— Oliver Willis (@owillis) December 19, 2016
The optics look terrible. The message the press is sending looks terrible. This is also exactly what Donald Trump wants. It’s just one more way to delegitimize the media, this time by making them look like sycophants and the media, as ever, plays right into it.
Oh, and by the way? After meeting with the press, Trump left for a real dinner at his golf course, because he’s not eating the mayo/gravy sludge with the plebes.