Donald Trump versus the media

Almost one month into his term, Trump is also still mired in a tough battle to confirm his nominees for the cabinet. Photograph:( AFP )

WION Washington, DC, United States Feb 17, 2017, 06.54 PM (IST) Giles Gibson

It’s already being called “a press conference for the ages”, the moment when a US President grabbed a microphone and waded into the frontlines of his administration’s war with the media.

After weeks of bungled press briefings by his White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Donald Trump held forth on everything from ratings to Russia in front of a shocked press corps.

This was a man visibly frustrated with the portrayal of his first month in office, railing against what he labelled “unfair” treatment by the press.

He began by describing his election victory over Hillary Clinton, calling it “the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan”.

This claim was immediately pointed out to be false, with Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama all piling up higher totals in electoral college votes since Reagan left office.

Trump then turned to accusations of chaos inside his own team. “This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine,” he said.

But that same administration is currently reeling from the forced resignation of its National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn.

Trump’s top pick to replace him, Robert Harward, reportedly turned down the job because of concerns about internal chaos at the White House.

Almost one month into his term, Trump is also still mired in a tough battle to confirm his nominees for the cabinet.

Vice President Mike Pence had to take the unprecedented step of casting a deciding vote in the Senate to break a tie over Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Education Secretary.

His pick for Labour Secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination facing strong opposition from a Congress that Trump’s own party controls.

Meanwhile the constant drip, drip, drip of leaks is dragging the administration into new scandals almost every day. But in an electrifying press conference, Trump refused to acknowledge the accuracy of stories being written based on that leaked information.

He told the gathered reporters that “the leaks are real” but “the news is fake”.

In another tense exchange with the BBC’s Jon Sopel, Trump claimed that his executive order on immigration had a “very smooth rollout”.

But before the US courts blocked it, the travel ban triggered chaotic scenes at airports and mass protests across the country.

After a press conference that CNN’s Jake Tapper labelled “wild” and “unhinged”, Trump is returning to familiar ground this weekend by holding a rally in Florida.

The event gives him an opportunity to address his supporters without having to take challenging questions from journalists.

This refusal to deviate from a single interpretation of events – what Kellyanne Conway calls “alternative facts” – was a hallmark of the Trump campaign. It is now becoming a hallmark of this new administration.

At a short joint press conference during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit, the president only took two questions. Both were given to news organisations widely recognised to hold conservative views and therefore unlikely to ask a difficult question.

Trump’s supporters say his plain-speaking style is one of the main reasons they elected him in the first place.

But his opponents say plain speaking is turning into a refusal to engage with the facts.