On Tuesday morning President-elect Donald Trump backed out of a meeting he had called with The New York Times. Hours later, he was in the Times building, complaining about the paper’s coverage of him.
The visit included an on-the-record meeting at which Times staff was able to ask questions of Trump, as several Times reporters live-tweeted the proceedings. What resulted was a wide-ranging discussion — but one that began with Trump criticizing the Times’ reporting, as he had similarly criticized coverage in a meeting with network executives and anchors on Monday.
“I have great respect for the New York Times. I have tremendous respect,” Trump said, according to the Times’ Mike Grynbaum. But, he added, “I think I’ve been treated very rough… I will say the Times is about the roughest of all.” According to Grynbaum, Trump also said, “You could make the case the Washington Post was bad, but every once in while I actually got a good article.”
The Times’ Maggie Haberman tweeted that Trump said he felt he’d been treated unfairly during the campaign, but wanted to improve his relationship with the paper.
According to Grynbaum, Trump’s comments about the Times’ coverage of him lasted for about four minutes. At the end of the meeting, he called the paper “a great great American jewel — world jewel,” the Times’ Julie Davis tweeted.
Trump’s remarks about NYT’s “rough” coverage of him- “I’ve been treated very unfairly”- lasted about 4 min. Now onto reviewing the campaign.
— Mike Grynbaum (@grynbaum) November 22, 2016
During the meeting, Grynbaum tweeted, Trump was also asked about Breitbart News, the company that Steve Bannon had chaired before being named CEO of the Trump presidential campaign and now a senior counselor to Trump in the White House — and specifically about concerns regarding Breitbart’s coverage of minorities.
“Breitbart is just a publication. They cover stories like you cover stories,” Trump responded. “They are certainly a much more conservative paper, to put it mildly, than the New York Times. But Breitbart really is a news organization that has become quite successful. It’s got readers, and it does cover subjects on the right, but it covers subjects on the left also. It’s a pretty big thing.”
Trump was also asked about his commitment to First Amendment protections for the press. “I think you’ll be happy,” he responded, according to Haberman.
Trump’s meeting with the Times was the most extensive interview he has given since being elected. He has not held a press conference since being elected as president, breaking with precedent that has seen presidents-elect speak publicly to reporters and the American people soon after Election Day.
Before the meeting, dozens of people had assembled in the lobby of the Times’ building to await Trump’s arrival. A number of reporters and camera personnel huddled at an elevated entrance on one side of the building.
As time elapsed, the journalists grew restless, openly wondering if they were waiting for nothing. “I don’t think he’s coming,” said one reporter grimly. A few minutes later, shortly before 1 p.m., security confirmed his suspicion, announcing to the room that Trump had already made it inside, avoiding those who’d been waiting for him downstairs. He did go through the lobby on his way out, though, drawing some cheering and some boos as he went.
Much like the conversation in the meeting, the back-and-forth that preceded it showed Trump’s impulsive nature and his combative approach toward top news organizations.
A little after 6 a.m. Tuesday, Trump tweeted to announce that the meeting had been canceled. Around three and a half hours later, his press secretary Hope Hicks told CNNMoney that it was back on.
Trump had originally asked for a meeting with Times executives, which was off the record, and also agreed to meet on the record with reporters and columnists.
The Times announced the meeting on Monday.
But on Tuesday morning, Trump said on Twitter that the “terms and conditions” had changed at the last minute — a claim The Times denied, saying it was in fact Trump who had tried to alter the conditions.
“Not nice,” Trump said in an early morning tweet. He called the newspaper “failing,” a favorite insult.
In a second tweet minutes later, the president-elect said: “Perhaps a new meeting will be set up with the @nytimes. In the meantime they continue to cover me inaccurately and with a nasty tone!”
A front-page story in The Times on Tuesday questioned whether Trump’s business deals will test a provision of the Constitution that blocks office-holders from accepting certain gifts and profits from foreign governments.
The Times and other news organizations have also reported extensively on the unprecedented conflicts of interest posed by Trump’s hundreds of business holdings around the world.
The Times also reported that Trump recently asked British politician Nigel Farage to oppose offshore wind farms that Trump believed would damage the view from one of his Scottish golf courses.
The Times said it only learned through Trump’s tweets that the meeting was off.
“We did not change the ground rules at all and made no attempt to,” Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told CNNMoney.
She said Trump’s representatives had asked only for a private meeting, with nothing on the record. But she said the two sides later agreed to a small off-the-record session and a larger, on-the-record session with reporters and columnists.
In a third tweet, Trump said The New York Times had “announced” that “complaints about them are at a 15 year high.”
In a November 19 column, the newspaper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, said the number of complaints to her office is “five times the normal level.” She said letters to the editor, which are not necessarily complaints about coverage, are coming in at the highest level since September 11, 2001.
“There is a searing level of dissatisfacton out there with many aspects of the coverage,” she wrote.
Trump responded that he “can fully understand that,” but he wondered why the paper would announce that complaints were up. The reason, simply, is that the role of the public editor is to critique the newspaper’s coverage and serve as liaison between readers and the editors.
On Monday, Trump met off the record with executives and anchors from the nation’s biggest television networks to Trump Tower. Sources told CNN that he complained about media coverage and was highly critical of CNN and other news organizations.
The sources said he also answered questions, listened to journalists’ arguments about the importance of access, and committed to making improvements.
–CNNMoney’s Tom Kludt, David Goldman and Chris Isidore contributed to this report.
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