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In late January, Donald Trump announced he would skip a Fox News debate and hold a fundraiser for veterans’ groups instead. At the time, Trump said $6 million was raised. But in the ensuing months, reporters at The Washington Post contacted veterans’ charities and discovered most hadn’t received any checks. On Tuesday, Trump called a press conference to announce donations had been made to these groups. and then spent most of the time berating reporters who cover his campaign. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee called one ABC reporter a “sleaze” and reporters in general “dishonest” and “unfair.” Diane and guests discuss Donald Trump’s combative relationship with the press and how it affects his campaign for president.
- David Folkenflik Media correspondent, NPR; author of "Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires"
- Matthew Schlapp Principal and founder, Cove Strategies; chairman, The American Conservative Union
- Byron York Chief political correspondent, The Washington Examiner
- David Fahrenthold Political reporter, The Washington Post
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. On Tuesday, GOP presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, called a press conference. He announced his campaign had raised more than $5 million in donations for veterans' groups. But then, Trump spent most of the 40 minutes criticizing and insulting reporters who cover his campaign.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about Donald Trump's contentious relationship with the media, implications for the remainder of the presidential campaign, Byron York of The Washington Examiner, David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post and Matt Schlapp. He's with Cove Strategies and The American Conservative Union. Joining us from a studio in New York City, David Folkenflik of NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure many of you will want to weigh in. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thank you all for joining us.
MR. BYRON YORKThank you, Diane.
MR. DAVID FAHRENTHOLDGood to be with you.
MR. MATTHEW SCHLAPPGood to be here.
REHMThank you. And Matt Schlapp, I'll start with you. Tell us how and why you think this contentious relationship between the press, the media and Donald Trump began.
SCHLAPPWell, you know, Diane, it doesn't help when everyone's calling everybody names. That never helps anything. And clearly, the press, at least recently and throughout this campaign, they're essentially, when it comes to these veterans affairs donations and certainly to Trump U, they're basically calling him a huckster or a fraud. And the donations themselves, they're questioning his honesty about the fact that he raised the money.
SCHLAPPSo, you know, Trump reacts very aggressively. I think how it all started, though, is many of these reporters, and let's face it, many people who look at politics and prognosticate, were saying that Trump would never have a chance, that -- especially how he started his campaign with that crazy kind of announcement in Trump Tower, that this was never going to get off the ground and he's proven a lot of them wrong.
SCHLAPPAnd I think, at least on the Republican side, there's a lot of people that are still smarting over the fact that they got this so wrong. But I do think, as this moment, the name-calling is -- cannot help get to a better relationship and I hope it gets better.
SCHLAPPWell, I think he uses -- you can clearly say he calls them these names that are just, you know, you never heard in politics at a press conference. You know, you would never tell a candidate, hey, go out there and call a reporter sleazy or something to their face. By the same token, what they are saying about him is actually even worse. They're not using names like that, but they're actually saying that he's lying, that some of his business ventures, like Trump University, are frauds.
SCHLAPPThose are pretty harsh judgments as well so there's a lot of passion on the table.
REHMAll right. David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, you were at that press conference on Tuesday. Were you surprised at anything that Donald Trump had to say to or about members of the press?
FAHRENTHOLDWell, I was surprised a little bit. Trump, you remember, had called me a nasty guy on the phone a few days before, but yeah, I was surprised at the tone he took in that press conference. Here's what's interesting about this. Trump did raise this money. He raised $5.6 million for the veterans. This was an event where he could've -- he was giving it away. We had been asking questions about what he had done with the money. Here he was giving it away.
FAHRENTHOLDThis could've been a good moment for him, a sort of, you know, he could've cited the veterans groups he was praising -- or he was donating to, praised their work. Instead, he couldn't even do it. He was so upset at being pressed to explain what he had done with this money that he had raised in public, that he stepped all over his own good news. He would just read the names off and then interrupt himself to go back to insulting the press.
FAHRENTHOLDSo to me, that was the interesting part was how strongly he'd reacted to questions. Matt said earlier we were calling him names. At least, from my part, I wasn't. I was just asking him to explain what he'd done with this money he'd raised in public. That level of scrutiny, he just kept saying, you want to know why, who did I give it to, who did I give it to. And he was so mad about that, I was really impressed by how angry that sort of level of questioning had made him.
REHMYou were there at that press conference as well, Byron York. Tell me your impressions.
YORKWell, actually, I was not there at the press conference in New York. You know, I've covered Trump in maybe 10, maybe 12 states and he has made attacking the press part of his shtick. He comes out and he tells the audience how dishonest -- he points to the press, whom, by the way, he forces to stay in a pen toward the back of the room, points to the press, says those guys are totally dishonest, they're sleazy, they're lying about the size of the crowd and about other things about me. He's made this kind of a part of his routine that goes over reasonably well with his supporters.
YORKAt the same time, he has managed to get all of this coverage. I mean, if you look at the cable networks, it's Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. A lot of the Hillary Clinton supporters are extremely, you know, upset about the amount of time. There was a time recently when Hillary Clinton was making some fairly important remarks on national security and the networks were showing a picture of an empty podium, soon to be taken by Donald Trump for a speech.
YORKSo he is kind of a master at using the press. He has a symbiotic relationship. It goes back to the 1980s when he was kind of the king of the tabloid press in New York City. And he's doing it, I think, from his point of view, very successfully.
REHMDavid Folkenflik, what do you make of his relationship with the press? Is this simply a useful strategy on his part to get more attention?
MR. DAVID FOLKENFLIKI think there was a little bit of a difference in what we say this week, as David just eluded to. At first, I think, I want to underscore what Byron said is exactly right. This campaign, in this way, does not exist without the almost unceasing attention and coverage that he gets, particularly online and particularly on television, cable TV. He just doesn't exist without it. Both the financial model of it or the intuitive nature of it exists because he knows how to press the levers of the press as though he's a master organist here at St. Patrick's Cathedral, right?
MR. DAVID FOLKENFLIKBut he seemed genuinely angry because of the scrutiny he was getting and the kinds of scrutiny he gets for controversies over the course of this campaign has been, you know, he insults John McCain for his service as a war hero and says, well, you know, my definition of war hero, the guy doesn't get shot down. Well, that's a flap in a controversy and it owns several news cycles, but it's one of Trump's own making.
MR. DAVID FOLKENFLIKIn this instance, you know, David and The Washington Post, in particular, among other reporters were holding him responsible for promises he had made to veterans over the course of this campaign season. It's not something he can dismiss and say that happened years ago, has to do with my business dealings. It's something so complicated, you couldn't understand. It's something that happened in public view right now during this election campaign.
MR. DAVID FOLKENFLIKThe Washington Post and our colleague there held him accountable in real time and that was not something he was ready for. He's ready to talk about controversies he's created himself because that allows him to kind of blot out all over activity on the campaign trail.
REHMDavid Fahrenthold, explain just what happened with this money going to veterans charities.
FAHRENTHOLDSo in Iowa, on January 28, Trump skips a GOP debate because he's having a feud with Fox News. He holds this televised fundraiser for veterans and says he raised $6 million. We started looking into that a few weeks later to try to figure out, okay, had the money going out because he'd been giving big, oversized checks to people in Iowa, but not enough to account for $6 million and even the people that got the oversized checks, it took them a long time to get the real check.
FAHRENTHOLDSo we started sort of pressing people to find out how much money they'd gotten and found out in early March, he's given only about half of it away. And then, Trump, basically, stopped answering questions about it. He told us he wouldn't give us any records. He wouldn't release anything. It wasn't our business. Then, just a few weeks ago, Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, called me and said two things -- two things that turned out to be false.
FAHRENTHOLDOne, that Trump had only raised $4.5 million because some of the big donors that he'd gotten to come in had backed out. Number two, who, in January, had made a pledge of $1 million of his own money had already given that money, but it was secret. He wouldn't tell us who he gave it to. Both those statements from Lewandowski turned out to be entirely wrong. The next week, we learned from Trump that after we started asking questions and sort of raising questions about him on Twitter where he spends a lot of his time, Trump gave all the money a few days later, $1 million in one check to somebody that he called in the middle of the night and gave the money to.
FAHRENTHOLDSo a charity. So we asked him, you know, why did it take your four months to give a way this $1 million? Trump says, well, I was vetting this group. But the group that he gave it to, as I pointed out on the phone to Trump, had given Trump a Lifetime Achievement Award last year at a black tie gala in New York City. Like, he had vetted these people. They gave him an award on a big stage. And so Trump said, oh, yeah, yeah, that's true. They gave me an award. I said, well, why did it take you four months to give this money away?
FAHRENTHOLDDid you give it away because I was asking questions about it? And he said, oh, you're a nasty guy. And it turned out that the next day, he began giving away the rest of the money that other people had entrusted to him, that he had been refusing to give us details about. Those checks started going out the next day, last week. And so those are the groups, the donations that he announced the other day, on Tuesday. The last thing is, Trump made a big point on Tuesday -- he was very defensive about vetting.
FAHRENTHOLDI have vetted these groups. That's why it took me four months to give the money away. We've learned since, that his vetting was not very good. One of the groups that he gave money to was an F-rated charity that has been the subject of a Better Business Bureau alert for harassing deceptive tactics in its fundraising. So even if you just Googled that group, you would've found that four of the first three web hits are sites warning that it might be a problematic charity.
FAHRENTHOLDSo Trump, in his four months, doesn't seem to have even Googled that group and if he did, he didn't care what it said.
REHMMatt Schlapp, how do you respond?
SCHLAPPWell, the first thing is you're doing your job and all these candidates who make these claims, you should check them. That's one of the reasons why we live in a democracy with a free press. I think it's great and he ought to have good answers. And by the way, she should have really good answers on the Clinton Foundation, too...
REHMYeah, but don't turn there yet.
REHMI'm still here on Trump.
SCHLAPPFair enough. I'm just saying that's the job of reporters, right?
SCHLAPPSo when it comes to Trump and these questions on veterans, I'll say one thing and maybe Byron would agree and other people who have dealt directly with the campaign, it is, in modern political times, one of the smallest, almost tiny group of people that they don't do some of the most basic vetting on some of their events that they do. And the candidate is directing much of this himself and I think it is fair to say that they didn't move fast enough on getting this money out the door.
REHMMatt Schlapp, he's principle and founder of Cove Strategies, chairman of The American Conservative Union. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about Donald Trump's contentious, at least, relationship with the media. You've just heard David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post talk about a conversation he had with Donald Trump regarding the contributions made or not made to various veterans organizations. He kept talking with you, didn't he, David?
FAHRENTHOLDHe did. So I was -- he called me a nasty guy. And then we were just, you know, then I just asked him the next question. Well, you know, what's the -- a question about the total fundraising or something like that, a factual question. And he just resets and answers that question. And then, after, he will give you some numbers and then he comes back to, you should be ashamed of yourself. I can't believe you're doing this. So there's a -- that is that weird dichotomy where he's using the words of somebody who's angry but he still wants to have that conversation.
REHMI don't understand. Byron, do you understand?
YORKWell, I think the thing that animates everything Trump does is to keep it interesting. The reason he had the event on January 28, across Des Moines -- across town in Des Moines from the Fox News debate was that he had kind of ginned up this feud with Fox News and specifically with Megyn Kelly, which was getting an enormous amount of attention. So then he decides not to do it. Well, he's got to have some sort of alternative event. He creates this veterans event. I was there. You did get the impression that he meant -- he was going to write a $1 million check, like, tomorrow, which he didn't do. But it's constantly to keep things interesting.
YORKAnd we're talking about the press conference which was a few days ago. And he very specifically plans through this campaign, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this. Things are getting kind of quiet, I'm going to do this. He wants to keep the attention. And if you look, as I was mentioning before, if you look at the television coverage, the imbalance is huge. It's not because of bias, it's because he's kept things interesting.
REHMDavid Folkenflik, the media stands pretty low in the estimation of the general public. Is Donald Trump simply tapping into that distrust, mistrust, even hatred of the media?
FOLKENFLIKAbsolutely. I mean, he's going to lose nothing by doing it. I think his core backers will hear kind of echoes of complaints, concerns, antagonisms that they already feel. And I think it actually serves to help in some ways undermine the standing of the press to bring the kind of scrutiny that many people have been calling for, for his business record -- after all, he's never held public office before -- the kinds of things that David and others have been doing. You know, if he can just knock the -- whatever standing we in the press have, the ability and the stature to do that, then that's a success as well.
FOLKENFLIKIt's also, you know, a clever tactic. If you think back to the reason that he was having a feud in the first place, it was because of the very first debate held in the Republican primary cycle, held on Fox News and, in August. And he went out and he really lambasted Megyn Kelly as we recall. He suggested perhaps that she was menstruating and that's why she asked tough questions. Although I thought the questions from Chris Wallace and Bret Baier were also pointed and thoughtful. But he really made it about him and them. But the brilliant thing was, there were 10 people on that stage, 10 candidates. And he made the debate not about him as one of 10 rival, bickering candidates, but it was him against Fox News, him against the press.
FOLKENFLIKAnd suddenly, it was a very different debate and a very different campaign from that first debate on. It was a brilliant maneuver in its way. And I think that's colored what we've seen, even though we know -- as Byron alluded to earlier -- he's been incredibly engaging with the press, incredibly charming with press, liking to call reporters at home and gossip about real estate, about celebrity gossip here in New York and about politics, for decades. So it's not that he hates the press intuitively. It's that -- it's a lot like a friend of mine once said, a good friend of mine who worked here at NPR, he said, you know, I think 85 percent of whether or not you like someone is whether or not they like you.
FOLKENFLIKWell he defines liking you as whether or not you're giving him pretty unfiltered or positive coverage at that moment. And if you're not, boy, does it tick him off.
FAHRENTHOLDWell, I think that's right. One thing that I think is important to remember as we go forward is that a lot of reporters who cover politics sort of always keep the horse race in mind. And there's this idea that because Trump has succeeded by criticizing the media so far or that controversial things from his past have been brought up and his poll numbers among Republicans haven't gone down, that people say, well nothing matters, as he likes from nothing matters. You know, it's -- there's this tendency to think of everything he does as this strategic, genius move and so there's no point in writing about him because then he'll just turn it back to his advantage.
FAHRENTHOLDI'm not sure that's true. I'm not sure that press conference on Tuesday really helped him. But it shouldn't matter, right?
REHMWhat kind of reaction did you get from the articles you wrote?
YORKI mean, from fellow journalists and from people out in the public, a really good reaction. I mean, there are some people who are unhappy with them. But I got a lot of praise and I've -- a lot of help from other journalists who've passed on, you know, sort of publicized my stories and wrote about them. So it's been a very rewarding experience. And I think, you know, I don't know what it's going to do to the horse race or how it's going to affect the general election. But that's not my point.
REHMHere's a tweet from Ted, who says, I don't like having to defend Trump, but I think the fact that The Washington Post was investigating implied they didn't believe him, which is irksome.
FAHRENTHOLDWhich was true. His -- Corey Lewandowski, the other day, when he told me Trump's raised $4.5 million, other donors have backed out, Trump's giving his million dollars. All those things were false. Okay? So it was not that I was sure they wrong but I kept pressing because I thought they might be wrong. And indeed, they were all wrong. If we had kept -- if we'd just stuck with that and not asked anymore questions, Trump would have never given his million dollars and everyone would have thought he had. So the fact that it's irksome to him that we didn't believe it and kept questioning, well, that's the job.
YORKWell, I don't know if he ever would have given it but there's no doubt that he hadn't given it. And that, as I said, being there, you got the sense that he was going to write a check rather soon for it. But, again, it was all to create interest, to dominate the news for today, because he can think of something else to dominate the news tomorrow and the day after that. And it's been incredibly successful.
REHMHere is a phone call. I want to get these folks in as soon as possible. To Sheila in Fort Washington, Md., you're on the air.
SHEILAYes. Good morning and thank you. I think that this new sense of courageousness by the press and media seems to me to be just too little too late. Because the fact that Trump is even the presumptive GOP presidential candidate for the United States is in part, I think, an indictment of the early cowardice of the press and media to confront him on his bigotry, on his divisiveness, even beginning with the whole Birther movement. And just like some of your panelists said yesterday, he demonstrates and exhibits elements of fascism.
REHMMatt Schlapp, do you want to comment?
SCHLAPPLook, I guess it's -- a lot of people like to sit around and bash the press on all these things. I think the press has done a fairly responsible job of reporting the most interesting political year certainly in my 48 years of being on the earth, maybe in all of our years of being on the earth. It's a heck of an interesting story not just about Donald Trump, it's about the fact that we could actually, potentially elect another Clinton, the wife of a former president. That's an amazing story.
SCHLAPPAnd you have this tumultuousness in the Democratic Party with Bernie Sanders even tied in California at this late stage in the campaign. And Donald Trump wiping out, wiping out, getting the most votes ever as a Republican candidate for the Republican nomination. This is a big story.
YORKWell, first of all, I think Trump got a lot of negative press during the whole Birther episode, which I think was 2012. On the other hand, he actually forced President Obama to release his long-form birth certificate, which seemed to kind of kill the whole Birther movement once and for all. So I'm not sure what the lesson Trump took away from that is.
YORKAnd the other thing, as far as the campaign is concerned, a lot of press coverage is driven by rival campaigns. Rival campaigns tell reporters stuff about the other campaigns. And this was not a weak field. There were a lot of Republican candidates who were quite good, who were quite experienced, who had hundreds of millions of dollars to spend. And they all lost. So I really don't think this was a press affair.
REHMAll right. To Hannah in Casselberry, Fla. You're on the air.
HANNAHGood morning, Ms. Rehm. Thank you for taking my call.
HANNAHI have two questions. One is, what if the press just way tones down coverage on Trump, won't stand in his holding pen at the events, put his articles on page four below the fold and move on and cover stuff that really matters? The other question is, can we expect someone who wants to be the leader of the free world to handle the kind of crises that happen on an international level, when he has a meltdown just because somebody said, hey, where did you put that money?
FAHRENTHOLDAs far as the question about, you know, could we tone down our coverage and not cover him, I mean, speaking only for The Post, we don't have that kind of gatekeeper power even if we wanted to use it, even if we thought that was a good idea and I don't think it is. I think he should have as much scrutiny as he could possibly have. There's not the kind of, you know, domination of the media by a few outlets that would allow people to, you know, keep Donald Trump out of the news even if we tried.
FAHRENTHOLDSo I think it's -- I mean, I think, people say, well it doesn't matter because it hasn't changed his poll numbers. But I think it does matter that people have gotten this -- and the -- all this stuff has gotten out and some of it now will get reexamined, probably, that he's the nominee.
REHMMatt Schlapp, what about that kind of meltdown personality that we all see?
SCHLAPPWell, you know, there are some recent polls that have come out that show the race pretty tight. But also, I don't look at that horse race so much, the ballot question. I like to look at some of these other questions. And it's interesting, if you ask them about, does he have the temperament to fight ISIS? He's up by double digits. Does he have the temperament to handle an international crisis? She's up double digits. The great thing about the press in covering all this -- I know it's icky for people sometimes -- is that it exposes people. I think Hillary Clinton is getting exposed. I think Donald Trump's getting exposed. I hope voters learn more and make good decisions after that.
REHMDavid Folkenflik, how do you see it? Has the media given too much coverage?
FOLKENFLIKI think that it's hard to argue that Trump, even before it was clear he would be the -- it was ironclad clear that he was going to be the nominee of the Republican Party, that he received a wildly disproportionate amount of coverage. He also just, you know, he was magnetic. It was very hard for TV to resist. He was also available in ways that most other candidates were not, giving far more interviews and, in some ways -- I've talked to a number of cable news hosts who say, hey, look, you know, at least the guy showed up. And that's important too.
FOLKENFLIKMy objection is less about the volume, although I think that the unfiltered amount of coverage of his rallies, his statements, his sort of, you know, as people have suggested, the fact that they were waiting in front -- with cameras stationed in front of an empty lectern broadcasting to millions of viewers, tells you how hungry they were for him, for the ratings to tick up. But, you know, the unfiltered coverage I think was much.
FOLKENFLIKMy criticism is that, until really recently, most major news organizations were allowing him to define what news was through these ginned up controversies or these pronouncements that he would make, you know, always chasing the last statements of the last 36 hours and not looking into the -- I thought it was hundreds, it turns out to 3,500 lawsuits filed against him -- not looking into his business practices, not looking into his successes, not looking into the ways in which he's depressed levels of power in city halls, in state capitals, in Washington, as he's pursued his casino and hospitality interests and his real estate holdings.
FOLKENFLIKI think that he's a guy with enormous interests which are not probably as large as he claims they are but nonetheless that we can have insights into that and that we haven't seen the kind of enterprise reporting until recently into that kind of thing that I think we should have earlier on.
REHMHow do you see that, David?
FAHRENTHOLDI think David's right. A lot of the rhythm of campaign coverage in past cycles was sort of gaff-based or statement-based, that somebody would say -- some candidate would say something, then they would be attacked by other candidates. They would show shame for having said the wrong thing. They would apologize or seek to explain. A lot of that was, you know, the -- think of Mitt Romney. There were several times when Romney, and Obama to a lesser extent, would sort of become the focus of one of these controversies. They'd have to explain why they said the 47 percent or something else.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd Trump, I think a lot of the coverage was trying to apply that same sort of rhythm to Trump. But it doesn't work for a couple of reasons. A, he didn't want to apologize. And B, the people -- the other candidates, as Byron said, that we were looking to sort of reflect public outrage back at him, didn't want to do it. Because they were all hoping that he would be the last one with them.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Matt Schlapp, do you think that his business dealings, his casinos, his bankruptcy should be off the table for journalists? Should they not be delving into these business deals?
SCHLAPPNo, I feel the opposite. Someone, you know, that this, it's come to light, this 3,200 or 3,600 lawsuits, I think they should delve into them. I think the press should come out and -- I'm sure there's delicious nuggets in every lawsuit. And I think everyone should read about them. But I do think there's a perspective to things. The one thing that Byron has pointed out about him being the king of the tabloid journalism in New York City is, you know, I have read about him my whole adult life. A lot of voters have. It's not like this person has been hiding. This somebody they understood. They got to read every detail of his personal life. They know about the marriages. They know about the businesses. They know about the bankruptcies.
SCHLAPPThere's a certain extent to which voters are willing to say, you know, I don't care much about that because the message we're sending is, we want somebody who is going to scare the heck out of these power brokers in Washington. And I think it transcends some of this bawdiness in his personal life.
YORKIf I could bring up access and the extraordinary access that a lot of reporters have to Trump. After the press conference, a Hillary Clinton press person tweeted, close your eyes for a moment. Stop. Think about the press conference you just watched. Now try to imagine him as president. To which Amy Chozick, a New York Times reporter, responded, this would be an excellent time to contrast it to a Hillary Clinton press conference. But there wasn't one. She hasn't had one in months and months and months. So I do think a lot of the press is kind of ambivalent about this. They look at Trump. He's there. He's answering their questions.
YORKHe does have, as Matt was saying, he has a tiny, almost nonexistent, nonprofessional press operation. That's absolutely true. But somehow a lot of reporters end up talking to him. And the -- it's an incredible contrast to the Clinton campaign. So there is some ambivalence on the part of reporters about that.
REHMWe should point out that Hillary Clinton is making a foreign-policy statement today.
YORKAnd I could add one more thing. You know, there was a lot of controversy in the television world about television shows allowing Trump to just phone in and not have to come and sit on the set.
YORKYou know, my personal opinion about that was it was all fine. And what they should do is allow more people to do phoners...
YORKAnd not require everyone to sit down. And you have seen recently, Hillary Clinton has started doing it. She's done several phoners with CNN, with MSNBC, talking about the issues of the day. And it gets her more coverage. And actually I think that's a good thing.
FAHRENTHOLDDiane, you know, it's been 180 days or so since her last press conference. And she said, on the same day that Trump gave this rather interesting press conference, she seemed to kind of like be complaining that she had done 300 interviews, where you're talking about a Republican candidate that seems to answer or hurl 300 insults in a press conference. So I do think the Clinton campaign, they've got to get wise to how the modern presidential campaign's going to work. An she's got to somehow find a way to get in this.
FOLKENFLIKI don't -- I have not covered Clinton on the trail. I've covered it in a few stories about her. But it's certainly true that, with Trump, if you're writing about his policies or, you know, what he's done, you often can talk to him. Not always, but sometimes you can talk to him. You know, Clinton, I think, is, you -- it's rare to get her to respond to a particular story. She is doing more televised interviews. I think she's maybe realizing that she has suffered by being so completely hidden. But certainly that -- I have a good friend who works for NBC who talked about that, that they often offer the same opportunities to Clinton's campaign and to Clinton herself, come on, respond to Trump. And in the past, she didn't take them up on it.
REHMAnd, Byron, have you talked to Donald Trump personally?
YORKIt's been a while, but yes. You get in touch with his press person, Hope Hicks, and you may talk to him.
REHMByron York, he's chief political correspondent at The Washington Examiner. Short break here. And more of your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We've got two emails here. The first from David saying, how would you feel, Diane, if you raised almost six million dollars for vets and all the media could do was question you about who got the money, never giving you praise for your efforts? No one else is giving the veterans anything. How dare the media give him a rough time? David.
FOLKENFLIKWell, it's true. I should say, first off, that nobody else has raised as much money for veterans as part of the campaign. Nobody else has even tried. It's, you know, it's not a requirement of running for President. Trump did it on his own. He did raise the money and did give it out. We've talked to people. We've printed that in the paper that people that have gotten the money. And they talked about how life changing it was. A lot of these are small charities that got really big benefits.
FOLKENFLIKBut Trump says, just to think about this as a parallel to what he wants to do as President, he says he wants to reform the V.A. He wants to change the V.A., which is an incredibly complicated, expensive operation. Which, and reforming it will make a lot of people unhappy. This is a veritably small operation, take in some money, find worthy groups, give it out. It makes everybody happy. It's a relatively easy operation to complete and it should be relatively easy to answer questions about.
FOLKENFLIKAnd if Trump doesn't want to answer questions about this promise that he made in public, being President, and even being the nominee is going to be very hard for them, because there's more of that kind of scrutiny coming.
YORKAnd Trump was not under a gag order these last four months. At any time, he could have issued a press release saying, as we promised, we've given six million dollars to these charities. And it would have gotten coverage.
REHMAll right, but here's another point of view from John. Please ask this simple question. If Hillary Clinton were making these donations, would the press have been asking for proof in such an accusing manner?
YORKWell, A, I don't think it's an accusing manner to ask for proof. And B, yes. It's hard to talk about a hypothetical, but if Hillary Clinton raised money for veterans and said she was going to give it out, and then did not, and did not give details about it, I think she'd get the same kind of scrutiny.
REHMDavid Folkenflik, is Donald Trump being treated unfairly by the media?
FOLKENFLIKGosh, he's been treated every way by the media. I mean, first off, the media, of course, is a much broader umbrella than it once was. I mean, you're getting all kinds of coverage. You know, to my mind, there was just so much initial coverage of him as though it were all in the toy section. You know, the Huffington Post saying, well, we're going to cover him as entertainment, not as politics. But boy, when they got clicks, they sure cross tabbed him in their politics section, didn't they?
FOLKENFLIKI think there was just so much expectation that he was going to be some sort of a character from Saturday Night Live rather than Meet the Press that they didn't really focus on him as a candidate. So, he's gotten unfair treatment in the sense that he was treated savagely in tone. And he's gotten unfair treatment in the sense that he wasn't treated seriously and taken seriously and looked at seriously. And I think that, you know, it's very hard for a Donald Trump to be treated unfairly in a sense. Because what he says is so hyperbolic and what he says is so grandiose.
FOLKENFLIKAnd the implications of his policy positions, whether or not one feels that they are necessarily deeply held and fully sincere, are pretty stark. So, you know, if you're asking, has he been treated unfairly by the press, it's almost an impossible question to wrap your mind around.
FAHRENTHOLDThey're smarting from the fact that they do -- there's a lot of people in the press pool that feel like, for a while, they didn't take him seriously. They thought the wheels were going to fall off. They never thought this would be a real Presidential campaign. And now, they've kind of redoubled their efforts. But I will say on this question of the Clinton Foundation, it does raise this very fair equal scrutiny. Which is, that Foundation went on for years and years and years and only recently are we really under -- uncovering some real serious questions.
FAHRENTHOLDAnd if this comes into a question of the candidates' philanthropy, I think Hillary Clinton should get equal amounts of scrutiny on hers.
REHMWhat about Trump University? Byron.
YORKWell, that is something that Marco Rubio tried to make a big deal of in the campaign. Remember the debate, I think, it was in Houston, where Rubio debuted his kind of Don Rickles act, going against Trump. Said a lot about Trump University. There's been a fair amount of coverage. As far as the Republican primary is concerned, it did not affect him. But now, just in the past couple of days, we have the release of a bunch of papers from this lawsuit against Trump.
YORKA judge in California has released some of these papers. And they show that Trump had a fair amount of personal knowledge. I mean, there was some thought before that Trump had simply lent his name to this outfit. But Trump had actual knowledge, certainly at the promotional and the sales part of this. On the other hand, I believe Trump is going to be able to sort of muddy the waters. He'll produce some people who feel that they've benefited from their course at Trump University.
YORKThat they've made money from it. And then it will be kind of, well, on the one hand, on the other hand. I don't think it's going to turn out to be a huge, huge problem.
REHMWhat about you, David Folkenflik? Do you agree with Byron on the University issue?
FOLKENFLIKYou know, look, you don't cover something in the press to say, I'm doing this so that the outcome of the election will be something else. Unless you're a more partisan kind of journalist. You're doing it because you want readers and viewers and listeners to be fully informed -- to be able to go girded with knowledge -- to go to the ballot box. And you do what you can. I once wrote about a prominent Baltimore Congressman and his -- it turned out that he had basically failed to pay his mortgage for a half year, that he was being sued by a lot of his former clients as a lawyer.
FOLKENFLIKThat he, as a candidate for Congress, who went on to serve in a senior position on the House Ways and Means Committee, that drafts tax code, was something like 40,000 dollars of leans in federal taxes. And I went and wrote all this up and he was very angry with me. It was a very contentious thing and his people in his District re-elected him something like 80 to 20. And that was fine as an outcome. I wanted them to have the information. To me, I think it's really important to understand these kinds of business dealings a Trump does.
FOLKENFLIKAnd I think it's particularly important, and I think we should underscore this, he's never held elective office. We can't look at his voting record. We can't look at his performance at (unintelligible) . We don't know. This is what we have to look at, and in some ways, you know, there are allegations that he's something of a Potemkin billionaire, that his riches are not nearly as large as advertised. Well, we need to look behind the screen to see what's really there. Places like Trump University.
FOLKENFLIKAnd if voters don't want to vote -- pass their votes on at the base of that, I'm fine with that. They should just be aware of it.
REHMAll right, let's go to Samuel in Miami, Florida. Hi there.
SAMUELHi Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
SAMUELBy far, by far the best radio show on the air right now.
SAMUELAnd my is basically a question, because I don't understand how the media can just sit there and allow this man to deflect any and every question that has -- that poses a real concern to the American people. The count, the body count in Syria is reaching 500,000 dead. We have Brazil on the verge of coup d'etat. We have Venezuela's democracy upside down. We have 800,000 people trying to get into Europe. Does anybody question this man as to what his position is and forcing to ask him the question?
FOLKENFLIKYes, so we certainly do ask him questions about all those -- I mean, all those things and more. He's been...
REHMAnd what kinds of answers?
FOLKENFLIKWell, I mean, in some cases, he seems to have an opinion. Some cases, often, his opinions change from one interview to the other. And often, he seems not to understand -- not often, but sometimes, he seems not to understand the nature of the thing he's being asked about. There was a good anecdote in the New York Times the other day where they were talking about an interview between -- or a conversation between Trump and an energy executive. And the energy executive said, will you support lifting the ban on LNG exports?
FOLKENFLIKLiquid Natural Gas exports. Trump says yes. What's LNG? So, that's the kind of question that -- we need to know is Trump informed enough about these things to have opinions about? I think those questions are out there. They're being asked of Trump and they will be continued to be asked.
SCHLAPPI think the big frustration for the 16 other Republicans who ran for President is many of the ones that we all thought were going to lead the pack thought this would be a really in depth, policy conversation. And what it turned into, and I think Hillary Clinton's having this problem too, what it turned into this cycle, is character traits. Much less about policy positions, and more about, do you have the kind of character traits? And you know what the American people really, the American voters seems to want on both sides?
SCHLAPPThey want leadership. They want bold leadership. They want strong personalities. And that's what we're getting.
YORKWell, I think that's what did happen in the Republican primary process. Is that going to work in an actual general election? I don't know, but what Trump did in the primary process was basically indicate a set of preferences. He never spoke in detail about anything. Now, if you got him and you started talking about price per square foot of real estate and this part of Manhattan, or that part of Manhattan. I mean, just incredible knowledge.
YORKBut as far as what to do in Syria, you know, what to do about Venezuela falling apart, I mean, he would, even with ISIS, he would only give you very, very general preferences.
REHMHe would say I'll turn it over to people who understand that. He has said well, what are you going to do about Syria? I'm going to talk to the general. That's what he had said.
YORKHe's often said, and you know, that actually kind of worked for George W. Bush, if you remember in 2000. There was a lot of questions about -- Bush had been a two term Governor of Texas, had a record. But did he have enough knowledge about this and that? And one of the reasons he picked Dick Cheney is here's -- it's like, here's my smart friend Dick. He's done everything in the US government and he'll always be here.
SCHLAPPHe also travelled with Condy Rice and Colin Powell on that 2000 campaign trail. He was showing people, yes I'm a Governor, yes I'm relatively young, I'm relatively inexperienced, but here are the big players I'm going to put around me.
REHMAll right, and to Paducah, Kentucky. Lawson, you're on the air.
LAWSONThanks, Diane. You are a national treasure. So, I wanted to address your panelists talking about making sure that the voters have the necessary information on the candidates. And then, we also talked about how this cycle is more about character traits than information. And I'm just -- I want to know, well, I heard about a recent study not too long ago that addressed the fact that a person, once they've made up their mind, will not change it no matter the information that is presented to them.
LAWSONSo, once somebody has formed an opinion, it's incredibly hard to change it. Especially with facts. So with that in mind, what is it that journalists can do to inform and move the electorate for one way or another, for better or for worse, when this paradigm shift has become all about character?
REHMThat's really an interesting question. And as you, David Folkenflik, have said, all you can do is present what you know so that voters have the clearest picture you can present rather than trying to change their minds, one way or another.
FOLKENFLIKWell look, take something, and you know, people can argue about the fairness of it, but take a place like Mother Jones. Very much a left of center publication, but a publication that also does original reporting. They obtained the videotape from an event which former Governor Mitt Romney attended in 2012, at which he talked about the 47 percent. You know, people who are takers who would never, you know, support him no matter what he did. And it wasn't that Mother Jones' outrage did that much to move people's opinions.
FOLKENFLIKBut it seemed as though something that, certainly the Obama people felt, and my understanding is that Romney campaign officials felt, really effected the discourse that followed. And that was based on reporting. And again, people felt that well, it was taken out of context, ultimately. Or Romney was articulating in a clumsy way something that may be had some purchase, but whatever it was, that was based on reporting and on what the guy actually said. To me, there was no more clear instance of something that effected discourse in recent years that didn't have to do with a level of ideological overlay, even an ideological outlet had.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So, to you, David Fahrenthold, I mean, you've done your reporting. You continue to do your reporting. What effect can the press have on the electorate?
FAHRENTHOLDWell, I think David is right that you can't think in that, you can't think in that way, because I don't think any of us understand the electorate well enough to make that kind of prediction, even if that was your point. Right? A year ago, David said, nobody thought Donald Trump had a chance. And now, I think there's a presumption among a lot of people that actually, he's a strategic genius, and whatever he did, it must be good, because he did it. On the other hand, I feel like this, this -- what's happened about the veterans, these questions about the veterans.
FAHRENTHOLDAs I said, it's a relatively simple story and a relatively low level of scrutiny, and it's changed the last 10 days of this campaign. I mean, having asked questions about Trump and getting him on the record, first his people being wrong, then him making his foundation, it's turned the focus of this campaign on to him and onto questions about whether he followed through. So, I'm not doing that because I want to affect the outcome of the election, but I think that it has actually, just reporting on it, has changed the way this election has gone.
SCHLAPPAnd I will just say something as the non-journalist here. That one of the reasons it's good is I'm going to make a prediction that I think, actually, the last 48 hours is not going to harm him politically. Because the message that's going to get out to the voters, like some of your callers today, is he gave millions of dollars to veterans and we're going to be talking about the philanthropy of both candidates.
REHMHere's a tweet. A panelist said that Trump has never held a political office. But that's not a detriment to him. It's a plus.
SCHLAPPOh, it's absolutely a plus with people. And, you know, when Ted Cruz was running, of course he had held public office, but one of his main appeals to Republican voters was they all hate me. Everybody in Washington hates me. But one last thing, if you were a member of the press, and you were trying to get Donald Trump, I mean, you'd have to say there's been some success. You look at the polls, Americans overwhelmingly have a negative impression of him. Now, they make a very complicated calculation when they decide who to vote for.
SCHLAPPThey vote for people they don't like particularly sometimes. So, the race appears, right now, to be fairly close with Hillary Clinton. But people have a very negative impression of him, and they didn't get it because they know him personally. They got it through the press.
REHMHere's an email from Mike who is a veteran. He says, I served in '68 to '70. I don't feel Trump's contribution is honest. I believe he's using veterans' causes to serve his own campaign. He quote played soldier in an exclusive military school and never served. Veterans see through this pandering. Does the American public? An interesting question, and, you know, I keep wondering now about this university question and how far that's going to go, David.
FOLKENFLIKI think what's interesting about Trump University as sort of as a piece with the veterans thing, is we've been writing a lot about what Trump says. And Trump is good at explaining away things that he says, even things that he said about John McCain. Especially things he said in the past. What is interesting about the veterans and Trump University is this is what Trump did. These are things that Trump, when he, in private, when he -- was, this is things, not things he did for public consumption, these are things he was doing in private when no one was watching.
FOLKENFLIKAnd you can learn a lot about his character from those things. I think that's why those things may matter more than the sort of daily outrage about him saying one thing or another.
REHMLast word, Matt.
SCHLAPPYeah, I totally agree. I think there should be scrutiny on his business dealings. Trump University was a complete flop. It was a failure. He should own that failure. And I think the American people are going to consider his business dealings within the context of have the politicians even screwed up worse than Trump University?
REHMMatt Schlapp. He's Chair of the American Conservative Union. David Fahrenthold is Political Reporter for The Washington Post. Byron York is at the Washington Examiner. David Folkenflik is Media Correspondent for NPR and author of "Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires." Thank you all so much and thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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