Critic's Notebook: Donald Trump Goes Scorched Earth on Media in First Presser as President-Elect

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Donald Trump

The president-elect bitterly called CNN "fake news," continued his war with the intelligence agencies and reluctantly admitted about the hacking, "I think it was Russia."

On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump gave his first news conference in nearly six months, and the first since he won the presidency. So naturally, he brought along his lawyer.

And his press secretary. And Vice-President Mike Pence. And his children Eric, Donald Jr. and Ivanka. This wasn’t a press conference. It was a revue. It’s a wonder he didn’t have the Temptations backing him up.

There were times when Trump seemed effusive toward the press, praising The New York Times for not running with the story and saying that other news organizations that followed suit had “gone up a notch” in his book. But he mostly exhibited a hostility and resentment of the fourth estate that doesn’t bode well for the future. Looking annoyed at having to answer questions or explain himself — that’s something for mere mortals, his demeanor seemed to indicate — he made it clear that his relationship with the news media during his presidency is likely to make Richard Nixon’s seem warm and fuzzy.

The chief revelation was that Trump finally admitted, “I think it was Russia,” concerning the hacking of the Democratic and Republican campaigns. Except that he claimed that it was really only the Democrats who were hacked, and it was their own fault for being so careless. Trump, it seems, had the wisdom to advise Reince Preibus not to let the Russians hack them.  

It’s going to be a long four years. For the country, for the press, and most especially, for CNN, which Trump went out of his way to attack for reporting on the previous day’s intelligence report, originally released by BuzzFeed, that was particularly salacious. The details won’t be repeated here, but suffice it to say that letters to Penthouse are more wholesome. He described BuzzFeed as a “pile of garbage,” and when a CNN reporter tried to protest and ask a question, Trump immediately shut him down. “You are fake news,” the president-elect hissed at him. So you probably shouldn’t be looking for any exclusive Trump interviews on that network anytime soon.

Trump later was asked if he had ever misbehaved while in Russia, which is not a question that would have been asked of, say, Jimmy Carter. After boasting about how well the Miss Universe contest had done in the Moscow area, Trump assured the questioner that he never could have done such things, because as everyone knows, “I’m a germaphobe.”

Trump’s lawyer was on hand to provide details about his plans to separate himself from his business interests, even though he doesn’t really have to, because he’s, you know, the president. But out of the sheer goodness of his heart, Trump recently turned down a $2 billion deal in Dubai and now intends to take such steps as leaving the organization in the hands of his two grown sons, with no business discussions between them and their father allowed. So that’s going to make for some pretty boring dinner table conversations. 

The lawyer, who in true Trumpian language said that her client’s “business empire is massive,” pointed to a huge stack of paperwork as evidence of the complexity involved; as a visual aid, it was at least more appealing than Trump Steaks. She also said that the business would be hiring an “ethics adviser,” which, if you’re working for Trump, sounds like an oxymoron, and that the law firm would be “building a wall” between Trump and his company, which presumably will be paid for by Mexico.  

As usual, Trump’s language seemed on par with a fifth-grade reading level. Besides constantly referring to himself in the third person, he assured us that his administration would be “fantastic”; “tremendous things [were] going to happen”; it would be filled with “great talent”; “it’s going to be a beautiful thing”; everything would be “even better”; “people are so happy”; his cabinet appointees are “top-of-the-line” people who will do a “truly great job"; and he “will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created.” Trump shouldn’t be the president; he should be writing children’s books. He would have been great at telling his kids bedtime stories, except, of course, that he couldn’t be bothered.

Trump continued his war with the intelligence agencies, saying that it was a “disgrace” that their reports had been leaked. The dispute will apparently continue at least until his own appointees take charge, after which you can be sure they’ll tell him only what he wants to hear.

The president-elect actually seemed relieved when he was finally asked about his plans to replace Obamacare. Of course, he was happy to provide extensive details about the process. We’re going to “repeal and replace,” he said, “possibly within the same hour,” although he acknowledged that it was “very complicated stuff.” He asserted that if he did nothing, Obamacare would “implode” and prove “catastrophic” in 2017. So he was really doing the Democrats “a tremendous service” by taking it off their hands.

Meanwhile, Donald Jr. and Eric better watch out. Trump concluded the event by saying that after his presidency is over, he intends to resume control of his business, and if he doesn’t like what he sees he intends to tell his sons, “You’re fired.” And with the way both his administration and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hosting of The Celebrity Apprentice already seem to be going, that may happen sooner than later.