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Trump's Week With The Press


President-elect Donald Trump sought to rehabilitate his relationship with the press this week while also circumventing it. He met with network executives and The New York Times. But he also offered an update on his transition and a Thanksgiving greeting on YouTube. NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from New York.

David, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: So Monday, there was this meeting at Trump Tower, Donald Trump and five top television network executives and anchorpeople. There were various reports, but they did not wind up just shaking hands and making up, did they?

FOLKENFLIK: No. I think what we saw over the course of the week are the two sides of the coin when it comes to Donald Trump. He has exceptionally thin skin and is not only willing to dish it out but sort of eager to do so. And also it serves to throw red meat to a core part of his constituency. After all, he kept labeling the media part of the establishment that he wanted to tear down. And he did so with some intensity during the course of various rallies during the election season. The other side of the coin is that he desperately wants to be loved and embraced and applauded by the very same media. He wants to be celebrated.

SIMON: Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: He wants to appear on its front pages, and he wants to be on its airwaves. So, you know, he's trying to reconcile these two parts of himself. And he does so by berating all these TV executives and then by taking their questions and trying to impress them with his knowledge of his policy inclinations.

SIMON: In this day and age of social media platforms and YouTube, does any famous person really need the mainstream press?

FOLKENFLIK: Each president has sought to find ways - talk radio, local TV news, you know, new digital players, then social media itself - to find ways to get around what George W. Bush used to call the filter of the national media, and I think that's OK. You know, there are various ways you communicate.

You know, one of the things that upset a lot of White House journalists during Obama's presidency is that he essentially had Pete Souza, his White House photographer, do a lot of photography that used to be captured by pool photographers for major media outlets. And they said, well, this is essentially a form of, you know, propaganda. A lot of the pictures were great, but it is true - they weren't framed to be unflattering.

I will say that I think that what Trump suggests is something different. Trump tends to use the media when he's feeling well in terms of giving it access and shut it out when he feels, some ways, badly used or just given tough scrutiny. And one of the things that he does most well with social media is to change the subject.

If you think about his tweeting last week about "Hamilton" and - the Broadway show at which Vice President-elect Pence was booed - what he really did, among other things, was he changed the subjects from tough scrutiny about whether he had - it seems, very clearly - acknowledged violating tax laws, about essentially self-enrichment from his foundation, about whether his vast foreign investments essentially might violate a clause in the Constitution.

You know, that - there are some really important big-level issues that he's managed to distract a lot of attention from, if not all of the press, much of it and certainly much of the public, by virtue of using these social media, using these kind of twitch impulses to cloud the subject.

SIMON: David, I wonder if you have any insight into this. Kellyanne Conway, who managed Donald Trump's campaign, sent a tweet this week expressing some doubts that she professed that she had heard from people who did not want Mitt Romney to be nominated as Mr. Trump's secretary of state. Can't she walk into the office and say that to him?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's not forget that Donald Trump really is a creature of the media. So this may, in some ways, be the most effective way for them to reach him is to - is through the, in some ways, the reinforcement or the seal of approval given by it showing up on MSNBC or CNN or Fox. You know, somebody saying something - a message they want to get to him - may carry more of an imprimatur if it's coming through the voice of one of the anchors that he's watched over the years.

You know, you'd think that his own advisers are the ones that he'd turn to most. But if you also think of some of the advisers he's had in recent months, Kellyanne Conway, a political figure - but she was, you know, a pollster and really a spokeswoman in many ways. She's kind of figure of the media. And Steve Bannon came from Breitbart News. Roger Ailes advised him for several months. He was the former founding chairman of Fox News. These are people who are media figures one way or another. And that's really the - those are the waters that Donald Trump swims in.

And you can tell from his tweets that he's often responding minute by minute to what he sees online in major papers but particularly what he sees on TV. And I think they may have concluded that's the best way to reach him as some of these fights over who's going to join the Trump administration are played out.

SIMON: NPR's David Folkenflik, thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.