President Trump hosted his first independent press conference on Feb. 16, 2017. It took an hour and fifteen minutes, during which Trump answered questions about media coverage of his campaign, responded to criticism of his performance thus far, explained his plan for jobs, military spending, and the wall. He also reiterated the qualifications of his supreme court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and announced his pick for secretary of labor secretary, Alexander Acosta.
President Trump’s monologue was prefaced with an assertion of his intentions. He began by stating that he going “to update the American people on the incredible progress that has been made in the last four weeks since my inauguration.” Trump continued “I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.” He accused former President Barack Obama of leaving a “mess.” The current President remarked “I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.”
Trump continued his speech to elaborate on his plans for “draining the swamp,” repealing and replacing the Affordable Care act, and fair trade. His remarks closed by stating “God Bless America, and let’s take some questions.”
Michael Flynn, former National Security Advisor, was the topic of the first inquiry. Trump defended his decision to ask for Flynn’s resignation, then pivoted on the question to accuse The New York Times of “failing.”
What Trump deemed as “Fake News” then became the subject of discussion. About CNN, Trump said that “I’m not OK when [news] is fake. I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred.” He accused The Wall Street Journal of printing a front page story which was “not true.” Trump labelled the entire press as dishonest. “I’ve never seen more dishonest media.” During the press conference, Trump said that he expected the media to deem the event to be him “ranting and raving,” an accusation that he denied.
Coverage of the exchange between Trump and reporters was labelled as out of the ordinary. CNN described it as “an extraordinary denunciation […] of his critics” and an “amazing moment in history.” The Washington Post deemed it “combative, [and] grievance-filled.” Exchanges that were highlighted for being strange include a moment where President Trump asked if April Ryan, an African-American reporter, could “set up a meeting” between him and the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The exchange between Ryan, a reporter with the Urban Radio Networks in Baltimore City, and the President of the United States was deemed “notably offensive” by former National Security Advisor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings stated in regards to Trump’s comments that “I think a lot of people assume that all black people know all black people.”
Another notable exchange was the debate between a reporter and Trump about the margin of his electoral college. Trump claimed that he had the largest margin of victory since Reagan. Peter Alexander from NBC News tried to fact check Trump on this claim in real time, explaining to Trump that Obama in 2008 and George H.W. Bush in 1988 both had more substantial victories. It should be noted that Bill Clinton also surpassed Trump’s 304 (due to 2 ‘faithless’ electors’) votes. Trump defended himself, stating that he was “given the information.” The tense exchange led CNN to publish an article titled “Trump falsely claims (again) biggest electoral college victory since Reagan.”
As The Atlantic reports, conservative media pundits such as Glenn Beck and Michael Godwin described the press conferences differently compared to synopses from CNN, The New York Times, or The Washington Post. Beck called the conference “masterful,” praising Trump’s ability to talk in an unscripted manner. Godwin regarded “His [Trump’s] performance at a marathon press conference was a must-see-tv spectacle as he [Trump] mixed serious policy talk with stand-up comedy and took repeated pleasure in whacking his favorite pinata, the ‘dishonest media.’”
These remarks furthered the divide between President Trump and the media. In the past month, Steve Bannon has called the media “the opposition party” and urged them to “be quiet.” As evidenced by the confrontational headlines, news organizations have begun fighting back. Chairman of The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Sandra Mims Rowe, accused the current administration’s attitudes of being a threat to press freedom. She claimed “Donald Trump, through his words and actions as a candidate for president of the United States, has consistently betrayed First Amendment values. On October 6, CPJ’s board of directors passed a resolution declaring Trump an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to CPJ’s ability to advocate for press freedom around the world.”
C-SPAN has the full video and transcript of the conference online titled “President Trump News Conference.”