Like contestants on a reality show, the political media are being forced to play a waiting game until President-elect Donald Trump picks a press secretary and begins to set the rules of his communications policy. “Is he even going to have press briefings?” asks one TV news executive. “Who knows?”
Indeed, Reince Priebus, Trump’s pick for chief of staff, said that the administration may very well ditch the daily question-and-answer sessions with the press that have been a staple of the presidency since 1913.
“Look, I think that many things have to change, and I think that it’s important that we look at all of those traditions that are great, but quite frankly, as you know, don’t really make news,” Priebus said Dec. 14 during an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt. “And you know, even looking at things like 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.”
Until the networks get some clarity, they seem to be girding for an especially adversarial relationship with a commander in chief known for making false statements and turning the media into the story. Some news organizations are doubling down on fact-checking; ABC News is partnering with Facebook on an initiative to debunk fake news.
At the same time, many newsrooms are working to lock down star anchors: NBC News recently re-signed Today anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, CBS paid $16.5 million to keep Gayle King for three years, and CNN earlier this year locked Anderson Cooper into a long-term deal. Megyn Kelly remains the big question mark, though Fox News reportedly has offered her $20 million to stay.
Meanwhile, White House correspondent positions still are taking shape. Fox News said Dec. 12 that veteran anchor John Roberts will assume the role effective on Inauguration Day. NBC News has yet to settle on assignments, though Katy Tur, who endured criticism from Trump during the campaign, is expected to remain in New York.
White House correspondent is a job with a high degree of burnout, but Jonathan Karl and Major Garrett will remain in the role at ABC News and CBS News, respectively.
The outcome of the election means many Trump surrogates will stick around; CNN has re-upped Jeffrey Lord for 2017, while Kayleigh McEnany continues to be a regular presence. A CNN rep declined comment on McEnany’s future with the network. (Corey Lewandowski, hired three days after being fired by Trump in the summer, resigned shortly after Nov. 8.) And Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson, a familiar face on CNN, is among those (along with transition staffer Jason Miller and RNC spokesman Sean Spicer) who are in the running for communications jobs in the Trump White House.
Of course, Trump presents unique challenges for the media, so network choices will be scrutinized more heavily.
“This is a guy who has this love affair with being in the media,” says former CNN Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno, who now heads the school of media and public affairs at George Washington University. “He’s in the wrong job if he wants to be adored.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.