President’s media strategy creating friction

Donald Trump, Sean Spicer
FILE - In this May 9, 2017, file photo, White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington. If you’re missing your daily dose of Spicer, it’s because President Donald Trump’s chief spokesman has been on Navy Reserve duty. Spicer joined the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1999 and the commitment for monthly service occasionally keeps him away from his high-profile job as the public face of the Trump administration. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s briefing with reporters turned testy on Monday, with CNN’s Jim Acosta interrupting President Donald Trump’s chief spokesman to demand he explain why television cameras were ordered off.

Trump’s relations with the media — never strong to begin with — have taken another sour turn with dwindling opportunities for on-camera engagement with the president’s representatives. The White House has appeared to adopt a communications strategy of dealing primarily with its base of supporters, as witnessed by Trump’s two interviews in the past week with Fox News Channel’s morning show, “Fox & Friends.”

Spicer has been one of the most visible media personalities of 2017, with his near-daily briefings at the beginning of the administration lampooned memorably on “Saturday Night Live” by Melissa McCarthy. Lately, however, there’s been less willingness to mix it up with reporters.

Board members of the White House Correspondents Association met with Spicer on Monday and expressed the importance of Americans getting the chance to question leaders.

“We believe it is in the interest of transparency to have regular televised briefings,” said Jeff Mason, a Reuters correspondent and president of the White House reporters’ group. “We aren’t satisfied with the current situation and won’t be until it changes.”

Shortly after the meeting, Spicer held an off-camera briefing. Television networks were allowed to record audio, but not air it live.

When a reporter noted there had been a “drastic shift” in the briefings starting around the time of Trump’s foreign trip in late May, Spicer said “We’ll continue to mix things up.”

Spicer’s answer prompted Acosta, CNN’s senior White House correspondent, to interrupt and demand that Spicer “tell us why you turned the cameras off.” Acosta had interrupted a reporter earlier in the briefing with a similar outburst.

“Why are they off, Sean?” Acosta said. “You are a taxpayer-funded spokesman for the United States government. Could you at least give us an explanation as to why the cameras are off?”

Spicer said “some days we’ll have them” on camera, some days not. “The president’s going to speak today in the Rose Garden. I want the president’s voice to carry the day,” he said, referring to scheduled statements later Monday from Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Trump was not scheduled to take questions during the garden appearance with Modi.

“This is nothing inconsistent with what we’ve said since Day One,” Spicer added.

NBC News’ Lester Holt conducted the last non-Fox television interview with Trump on May 11. This past week, he gave interviews to Ainsley Earhardt and Pete Hegseth of “Fox & Friends,” a talk show so friendly to the president that CNN media reporter Brian Stelter described it as a Trump “infomercial.”

Hegseth, in his interview over the weekend, asked Trump, “Who’s been your biggest opponent? Has it been Democrats resisting? Has it been the fake news media? Has it been deep state leaks?”

He asked “how frustrating is it to have former President Obama out there, leading the resistance?” It was an apparent reference to a social media message the former president sent out in support of his health care law.

In Earhardt’s interview, she discussed Trump’s admission that he did not tape conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, despite earlier suggesting that there might be tapes. Raising the idea that Comey may have been taped in the White House “was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those (congressional) hearings,” she said.

“Well,” Trump replied, “it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that.”

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AP White House correspondent Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.