NEW YORK CITY, New York — At Trump Tower on Wednesday morning, President-elect Donald J. Trump lambasted the media—forcing a backfire of the industry’s planned efforts to trip him up just hours before his first press conference since last summer.
The press conference saw two new media organizations—Breitbart News and One America News Network—in the front row, both getting questions with the president-elect, and CNN and BuzzFeed being exposed as “fake news” operations. It was a stunning moment, an indictment of the media class on their own turf—the press conference—by a president-elect who has spent years on friendly terms with many in the news media before they turned on him during the course of the 2016 presidential election.
The moment was also a snapshot of what senior Trump aides tell Breitbart News is likely to be regular order in a Trump administration, where the president-elect is going to—when he takes office next week—shake up the normal course of business by stripping the dishonest characters in media of their power and rewarding hardworking new media outlets for telling the truth. A rocky road for some, the new direction Trump plans to take was on display as he called for reporters and those in the media profession to be “honest” when they report on his administration moving forward and to prove they have a “moral compass.”
Late Tuesday evening, before Trump’s scheduled Wednesday press conference, BuzzFeed published a fake news report on entirely unsubstantiated allegations from a supposed intelligence report that has since been largely discredited. CNN, the cable news network, ran with the story too without verifying it. The motive was to push the fake news controversy out into the narrative and force Trump to respond to it at the press conference—without ever actually checking to see if what they printed was accurate or verifying it at all.
It turns out, in the wake of BuzzFeed’s and CNN’s decisions to run with the fake news stories, the entire narrative has crumbled: An ex-BuzzFeed reporter, Rosie Gray, blew up a major part of her old employer’s narrative when she reported and confirmed with multiple sources that Trump attorney Michael Cohen never actually went to where the fake report alleged he went to—and was instead at the University of Southern California with his son during that timeframe, something USC confirmed—and more and more details have started crumbling apart.
So, naturally, Wednesday’s press conference here began with incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer shredding CNN and BuzzFeed for their inaccurate reporting of fake news. Spicer said:
Before we start, I want to bring your attention to a few points on the report that was published in BuzzFeed last night. It’s frankly outrageous and highly irresponsible for a left-wing blog that was openly hostile to the president-elect’s campaign to drop highly salacious and flat-out false information on the internet just days before he takes the oath of office. According to BuzzFeed’s own editor, there are some serious reasons to doubt the allegations in the report. The executive editor of The New York Times also dismissed the report by saying it was, quote, ‘Totally unsubstantiated, echoing the concerns that many other reporters expressed on the internet.’ The fact that BuzzFeed and CNN made the decision to run with this unsubstantiated claim is a sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks. The report is not an intelligence report, plain and simple.
Spicer then proceeded to factually debunk the entire so-called “report”:
One issue that the report talked about was the relationship of three individuals associated with the campaign. These three individuals: Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Carter Page. Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign. Paul Manafort has adamantly denied any of this involvement and Michael Cohen, who is said to have visited Prague in August and September did not leave or enter the United States during this time. We asked him to produce his passport to confirm his whereabouts on the dates in question and there was no doubt that he was not in Prague. In fact, Mr. Cohen has never been in Prague. A new report actually suggests that Michael Cohen was at — at the University of Southern California with his son at a baseball game. One report now suggested apparently it’s another Michael Cohen. For all the talk lately about fake news, this political witch hunt by some in the media is based on some of the most flimsy reporting and is frankly shameful and disgraceful.
Spicer introduced Vice President-elect Mike Pence next, who also bashed the fake news from CNN and BuzzFeed. In his remarks, Pence said, “there’s been such a concerted effort by some in the mainstream media to delegitimize this election and to demean our incoming administration.”
You know, I have long been a supporter of a free and independent press and I always will be. But with freedom comes responsibility. And the irresponsible decision of a few news organizations to run with a false and unsubstantiated report, when most news organizations resisted the temptation to propagate this fake news, can only be attributed to media bias and attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration and the American people are sick and tired of it.
When the man himself took the podium, he ripped the fake news media as well—saying that the mistakes by places like CNN and BuzzFeed, and their efforts to publish fake news without verifying it, leads to him doing less press conferences. But he also thanked the media outlets that have not gotten it wrong—the ones that worked to actually check before publishing—unlike CNN and BuzzFeed. Trump said:
It’s very familiar territory, news conferences, because we used to give them on an almost daily basis. I think we probably maybe won the nomination because of news conferences and it’s good to be with you. We stopped giving them because we were getting quite a bit of inaccurate news, but I do have to say that — and I must say that I want to thank a lot of the news organizations here today because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies? Who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they in fact did that. A tremendous blot, because a thing like that should have never been written, it should never have been had and it should certainly never been released. But I want to thank a lot of the news organizations for some of whom have not treated me very well over the years — a couple in particular — and they came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station. So, I just want to compliment many of the people in the room. I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press and all of that. But I will tell you, there were some news organizations with all that was just said that were so professional — so incredibly professional, that I’ve just gone up a notch as to what I think of you. OK?
The first several questions of the press conference focused on the intelligence briefings from which the fake news outlets like CNN and BuzzFeed said this phony report emanated, with reporters zoning in on how badly the two legacy establishment media outlets screwed up.
Fox News’ John Roberts got the first question, and he asked:
First of all, did the heads of the intelligence agencies provide you with the two-page summary of these unsubstantiated allegations? And secondly to that, on the broader picture, do you accept their opinion that Vladimir Putin ordered the hack of the DNC and the attempted hack of the RNC? And if you do, how will that color your attempts to build a relationship with a leader who has been accused of committing an act of espionage against the United States?
OK, first of all, these readings as you know are confidential, classified. So, I’m not allowed to talk about what went on in a meeting. And — but we had many witnesses in that meeting, many of them with us. And I will say, again, I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information; I read the information outside of that meeting. It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours, as you know, because you reported it and so did many of the other people. It was a group of opponents that got together — sick people — and they put that crap together.
So, I will tell you that not within the meeting, but outside of the meeting, somebody released it. It should have never been — number one, shouldn’t have even entered paper. But it should have never have been released. But I read what was released and I think it’s a disgrace. I think it’s an absolute disgrace. As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. And I — I can say that you know when — when we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently, they didn’t make a big deal out of that. That was something that was extraordinary. That was probably China.
We had — we had much hacking going on. And one of the things we’re gonna do, we have some of the greatest computer minds anywhere in the world that we’ve assembled. You saw just a sample of it two weeks ago up here where we had the six top people in the world — they were never in the same room together as a group. And we’re gonna put those minds together and we’re going to form a defense. And I have to say this also, the Democratic National Committee was totally open to be hacked. They did a very poor job. They could’ve had hacking defense, which we had.
And I will give Reince Priebus credit, because when Reince saw what was happening in the world and with this country, he went out and went to various firms and ordered a very, very strong hacking defense. And they tried to hack the Republican National Committee and they were unable to break through. We have to do that for our country. It’s very important.
Roberts followed up by asking, “Just to the last part of that question (inaudible) how could all of this potentially color your attempts to build a better relationship with President Putin?”
Trump replied that Russian President Vladimir Putin has already noted this reporting from CNN and BuzzFeed is “fake news.” He went on:
Well, you know, President Putin and Russia put out a statement today that this fake news was indeed fake news. They said it totally never happened. Now, somebody would say, ‘Oh, of course he’s gonna say that.’ I respected the fact that he said that. And I — I’ll be honest, I think if he did have something, they would’ve released it; they would’ve been glad to release it. I think, frankly, had they broken into the Republican National Committee, I think they would’ve released it just like they did about Hillary and all of the horrible things that her people, like Mr. Podesta, said about her. I mean what he said about her was horrible. If somebody said about me, what Podesta said about Hillary, I was the boss, I would’ve fired him immediately or that person. Because what he said about her was horrible. But remember this: We talk about the hacking and hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking. That Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing. That’s a horrible thing. Can you imagine that if Donald Trump got the questions to the debate — it would’ve been the biggest story in the history of stories. And they would’ve said immediately, ‘You have to get out of the race.’ Nobody even talked about it. It’s a very terrible thing.
After a few more questions back and forth about that, the president-elect turned the podium over to his attorney for ethics issues. He walked through how the former mogul’s businesses will be structured during his administration. Trump then started taking questions again, and when he got to CBS News’ Major Garrett, he was asked about his Wednesday morning tweet comparing the actions of CNN and BuzzFeed publishing fake news to Nazi Germany.
“The tweet that you had this morning about are we living in Nazi Germany, what were you driving at there? What are you trying to tell the American public?” Garrett asked the president-elect.
Trump first took a shot at the intelligence community.
“I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out,” he started in his answer. “I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public.”
Then he turned his fire on CNN and BuzzFeed specifically:
As far as Buzzfeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequence. They already are. And as far as CNN going out of their way to build it up — and by the way, we just found out I was coming down. Michael Cohen — I was being — Michael Cohen is a very talented lawyer. He’s a good lawyer in my firm. It was just reported that it wasn’t this Michael Cohen they we’re talking about. So all night long it’s Michael Cohen. I said, ‘I want to see your passport.’ He brings his passport to my office. I say, hey, wait a minute. He didn’t leave the country. He wasn’t out of the country. They had Michael Cohen of the Trump Organization was in Prague. It turned out to be a different Michael Cohen. It’s a disgrace what took place. It’s a disgrace and I think they ought to apologize to start with Michael Cohen.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta then tried to interrupt the president, still refusing to apologize for his organization’s fake news reporting, by saying: “Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question?”
As Acosta said “Mr. Trump,” the president-elect turned to another media figure in the room to take a question from them.
“Go ahead,” Trump said to the reporter a few rows deep.
Acosta, defiant, wouldn’t let it go.
“Mr. President-elect, since you are attacking our news organization…” he said.
“Not you,” Trump put down Acosta.
“Can you give us a chance?” Acosta shouted back.
“Your organization is terrible,” Trump fired another shot back at Acosta.
“You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir? Sir, can you…” Acosta piped up yet again.
“Quiet,” Trump silenced Acosta once more.
As the other reporter proceeded with her question, Acosta wouldn’t relent.
“He’s asking a question, don’t be rude. Don’t be rude,” Trump scolded Acosta, asking the CNN representative to be civil.
“Can you give us a question since you’re attacking us? Can you give us a question?” Acosta shouted, refusing to be civil in the press conference.
“Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question,” Trump replied. “You are fake news.”
Trump proceeded to take his question from the journalist a few rows deep and went on with the press conference.
A couple questions later, Trump turned to Breitbart News to allow this reporter to ask a question.
“Given that CNN just published fake news and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?” I asked the president-elect. In response, he called for journalists to be honest and show that they have a “moral compass.”
“I don’t recommend reforms, I recommend people that have some moral compass,” Trump said in response to Breitbart News’ question. “You know, I’ve been hearing more and more about a thing called ‘Fake News.’ They’re talking about people that go and say all sorts of things. But I will tell you some of the media outlets I deal with are fake news, more so than anybody. I could name them but I won’t bother. You have a few sitting right in front of us [pointing to CNN’s Acosta and Sara Murray]. So, they’re very, very dishonest people. But, I think it’s something we’re just going to have to live with. I guess, the advantage I have is I can speak back. When it happens to somebody that doesn’t have this [points to microphone], doesn’t have that kind of a megaphone, it’s a very sad thing. I’ve seen people destroyed. I’ve seen people absolutely destroyed, and I think it’s very unfair. So all I can ask for is honest reporters.”