Will the Trump administration keep its promises to the press?

During the campaign and after, President-elect Donald Trump voiced his distrust of the media and held the press at arms-length. On Thursday, he announced his communications team, including RNC strategist Sean Spicer as press secretary. Brian Stelter of CNN and Jeff Mason of Reuters join Judy Woodruff to discuss what to expect about press relations once the president-elect takes office.

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    President-elect Donald Trump continued to round out his White House team today, tapping two of his key campaign advisers to senior West Wing positions.

    She's been one of Donald Trump's most visible advisers since taking over as campaign manager last summer. Today, the president-elect named Kellyanne Conway to be White House counselor.

    He followed that with word that Sean Spicer will serve as White House press secretary. Spicer had been communications director for the Republican National Committee for five years. Last month, he moved over to become chief spokesman for the Trump transition.

    Now, Spicer, along with Jason Miller and Hope Hicks, will handle relations with the news media, and that could be a tall order.

    DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: The people back there, the extremely dishonest press.


    As candidate and president-elect, Mr. Trump has called out reporters in general, and at times, by name, like NBC's Katy Tur.


    They're not reporting it. Katy, you're not reporting it, Katy.


    Last month, he retweeted attacks on CNN's Jeff Zeleny, after the correspondent reported on Mr. Trump's unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. And during the campaign, the Trump team at times barred "The Washington Post," Univision, "Politico" and "BuzzFeed" from its rallies.

    Reince Priebus, the incoming chief of staff, is signaling changes could be ahead for the White House press corps.

    REINCE PRIEBUS, Incoming White House Chief of Staff: Even looking at things like the daily — you know, the daily White House briefing from the press secretary, I mean, there's a lot of different ways that things can be done, and I can assure you, we're looking at that.


    Still, Kellyanne Conway promised today there will be plenty of access.

  • KELLYANNE CONWAY, Incoming White House Counselor:

    You will have a great deal of press availability on a daily basis, and you'll have a president who continues to be engaged with the press.


    The president-elect has met with reporters off-the- record since the election. He has not held a news conference since late July.


    For more, we're joined now by Brian Stelter. He's senior media correspondent for CNN. And Jeff Mason, he's a White House correspondent for "Reuters", and he's president of the White House Correspondents Association.

    Welcome to both of you.

    Jeff Mason, to you first. Based on what you've seen of Donald Trump so far, both the campaign and the transition, what do you expect from him when it comes to press relations?

  • JEFF MASON, Reuters:

    Well, Judy, we're sort of going to wait and see right now. We're pleased to see and we congratulate the new members of Donald Trump's press team going into the White House and we look forward to working with them. Certainly, there have been some challenges between the media and the Trump team during his campaign, but we've made a lot of progress during transition in working on that relationship and setting up a protective pool, for example.

    So, I am cautiously optimistic that we will continue to make that progress once they're in the White House.


    Brian Stelter, we know there has been attention on some difficulties between the Trump team and the news media. Do you think it's been very different from other presidential nominees and people who've run for president and people who've served in the White House?


    On the surface, actually, there are a lot of similarities, right? The transitions having daily conference calls with reporters, it is putting out press releases. Donald Trump has given a couple of interviews. He, of course, has not held a press conference in many months, but he's given a couple of interviews.

    I would say, on the surface however, Donald Trump continues to wage an anti-media war, a campaign against the press by complaining about the dishonesty of journalists, by attacking individual journalists and institutions on Twitter. He's doing exactly the same sorts of things he was doing during his presidential campaign and this reasonably, they'll continue to do that when he's in the White House.

    You know, he told me in June, he would not be black listing reporters from the White House press briefing room, for example. He has indicated he will make some changes once he's actually in the Oval Office. But this anti-media campaign, I think we should expect it to continue.


    How worried — how concerned are you, Jeff Mason, about that?


    I mean, I'll call it cautious optimism. We're not naive about the challenges that the press corps faces, but I base it on the fact that we've made a lot of progress just in the last several weeks since the election on setting up a protective pool, for example. You may remember shortly after the election, President-elect Trump came to Washington without a pool of journalists.




    He went out for dinner one night in New York without a pool.

    Since then, we've got a pool in place. It's not perfect. It's not on his plane, for example, but we expect that to change once he's on Air Force One and we expect a full White House protective pool to be in place once he's in office.


    Brian Stelter, certainly, the three of us understand this being part of the news media, but for the public watching, why — what are they to believe about what a president's real obligation is to the press? Why shouldn't a president feel free to do whatever he wants, talk over the heads of the press, if he wants to?


    Yes, we should do a better job as an industry explaining how press freedom is your freedom. It's the freedom of the viewers watching this program, that we are only there at the White House working for them. And I know sometimes there is a disconnect, a grave disconnect, and we need to work to reestablish that connection.

    You know, we're not in the business of making assumptions, right? We should not be assuming the worst about a Trump presidency nor should we be assuming the best. Journalists should not make assumptions.

    But journalism lawyers, journalism advocates do have a sense of what the worst-case scenarios are here. It doesn't mean blacklisting reporters from the White House press briefing, which the new press secretary Sean Spicer says will not happen, which Trump said will not happen. It could be IRS tax audits of journalists. It could be revoking FCC licenses. It could be defunding public media. It could be using the Espionage Act against journalists to prosecute them for investigative reporting.

    These are all things that are feasible, that are possible. I'm not saying it's going to a happen, but certainly, First Amendment lawyers are focusing on these issues now, preparing for worst-case scenarios with Trump, given how anti-media he has been during the campaign.


    Jeff Mason, how would you describe what the president's obligation is to the news media? I mean, the First Amendment talks about don't do anything to abridge freedom of the press, but what does that really mean today?


    Well, certainly, the way we view that is making it possible for reporters to do their jobs, and that means having access to the president himself, it means having access to his staff and not only his communications staff, but also other senior advisors. And that's something that the White House Correspondents Association will continue to press for and, honestly, you know, Judy, that's an issue we have been pushing for with every president, and there is always a little bit of tension there. Regardless of what party the president comes from, there is always going to be a little bit of a tense relationship between the press and the administration, and we anticipate that.

    But we, to answer your question, certainly expect that upholding the rights and the freedoms that are guaranteed by the Constitution in that First Amendment include allowing the press to do its job.


    Brian Stelter, what does Donald — the president-elect's choice of these individuals to be in the press operation, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, the others he's named in the communications office, what does that tell you about what his approach will be? Other presidents have sometimes gone to a former journalist —


    There is talk about a FOX News host, for example, as press secretary or Laura Ingraham, the conservative talk radio host. Instead, he's going with a veteran of Washington, Sean Spicer, well known in the press corps. He is someone who will reply to emails, who will respond, he can also be combative. And certainly, Donald Trump would embrace that about Sean Spicer.

    But he is going with someone who's a veteran, who knows D.C. But I think we should make no mistake about this, I respect Jeff's cautious optimism. But Donald Trump is different from what we've seen in modern times from presidents. The indications that we've gotten and we've received over the 18 months of his campaign is that he will restrict access, he will attack and ridicule the press, and he will say things that are flatly untrue when it's very obvious things are untrue.


    Let me ask you about these tweets today from the president-elect. Just late this afternoon, he tweeted, quote, "Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35," which is a fighter jet, he said, "I've asked Boeing to cost out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet."

    So, Jeff Mason, when you look at this, when you look at the tweet earlier today where he talks about the need for the United States to beef up its nuclear capabilities, what does this say in terms of the news media and its ability to, frankly, keep up with what this president is trying to do, this president-elect is trying to do?


    Well, it is certainly the case that previous White Houses, especially the Obama White House with the age of social media, have used Twitter and other bits of social media to get their message out. But President-elect Donald Trump has taken that to a whole new level, and you're right to say, how will the media adjust to that?

    So far, it's been an adjustment in terms of just reporting out those tweets when they come, and I think Brian was right, too, when he talked about fact checking, and sometimes certainly the president-elect has tweeted things that are not correct and the media has for the most part tried to do its job of saying when that is the case. But it is a challenge and something that I think reporters and news organizations will be grappling with not just during the transition but in the months to come once he's working from the White House.


    And Brian —


    In the fall, he said he was going to be restrained with Twitter once in the Oval Office. But we haven't seen that in this transition period. If anything, we've seen Donald Trump, the same person he was in the 1980s, doing deals, doing business in New York city, now doing it on the global stage.

    You know, Judy, this contract for the F-35 was done years ago, of course, with the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin. It's going to take days to decipher what he's trying to say on Twitter, but trying to create the sense of a bidding war. I mean, this is exactly what his voters wanted to see crump do and he's using Twitter in an entirely new way to do it.

    And, by the way, you know, Sean Spicer, the new press secretary, says this will continue once Trump is in the White House. We'll see about that idea that he's going to be more restrained once he's in charge.


    Brian Stelter, Jeff Mason, thank you.



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