Donald Trump’s first press conference as the president-elect of the U.S. started off with a rarity: Praise for the media, or at least some of it.
It ended as many others did: Podium-mounted fire and brimstone. In other words, President-elect Trump is the same as the old Trump.
“You’re fake news,” he said in response to repeated attempts by CNN’s Jim Acosta to ask a question.
“As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequences,” he said in response to a question about the documents that BuzzFeed published on Wednesday night.
“BBC News. That’s another beauty,” Trump said sarcastically when a BBC reporter asked a question.
The message was clear. Trump had seen the coverage the night before, and he knew who had done what. Those that hadn’t published were on his good side. Those who had were in line for “consequences.”
How did the media respond to all this? Not particularly well.
It’s a scary proposition coming from the man who will soon be leader of the free world, wants to “open up libel laws” and counts Gawker-killer Peter Thiel among his advisers. The U.S. media now faces its most powerful and litigious opponent ever, and he’s keeping track of who is on his side.
Trump’s willingness to call out individual news outlets and reporters isn’t especially new. On the campaign trail, Trump made railing on journalists a key part of his rallies. It’s part of the act, a useful “campaign device,” as Newt Gingrich might put it. The press hadn’t been too harmed by it (except for the death threats and body slams). There was some hope that Trump would even calm that rhetoric once in a position of power.
Not so much. If anything, Wednesday’s press conference served as the clearest indication yet of how Trump and his administration plan on dealing with the media. The Trump campaign has already threatened very real consequences, Acosta claimed. (It’s probably not an idle threat — in 2015, Trump ejected Univision‘s Jorge Ramos from a rally for being similarly persistent.)
Trump’s press relationship has already drawn comparisons to U.S. President Richard Nixon and Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump seems to have a particularly friendly relationship. Putin is credited with systematically dismantling the Russian media over the last six years.
The sense of “that can’t happen here” isn’t providing much security for some journalists who are already noticing familiar patterns. In particular, Trump already had U.S. media outlets turning on each other.
CNN and BuzzFeed in particular, one might think, would be united in opposition to Trump. Instead, CNN released a statement that sought to distance its report from BuzzFeed‘s release of the documents, saying its work was “vastly different” (though CNN and BuzzFeed have already had ongoing tension). Elsewhere, there was squabbling over things like which media company’s swag people should buy.
Thankfully, the notion of media solidarity is not entirely dead. Other reporters questioned why the other journalists at the press conference did not relinquish their question to Acosta, noting that the press corps needs to stick together. Shep Smith even finished his show on Fox News by saying that not CNN “nor any other journalist be subjecting to belittling and delegitimizing by the president-elect of the United States.”
Still, if Wednesday was the media’s first test of its resolve under President Trump, it’s hard to feel terribly optimistic about the future.