One of the foremost broadcast reporters in the country said this week that President Trump admitted to her that his relentless attacks on the press was a strategy to discredit reporters and news media organizations to shield himself from negative coverage.
Lesley Stahl, the 13-time Emmy award-winning “60 Minutes” correspondent whose work has spanned decades, made the disclosure on Monday during an interview with Judy Woodruff of “PBS NewsHour” at a journalism award presentation in New York.
At the Deadline Club Awards presentation, Woodruff asked Stahl about her November 2016 interview with Trump — his first after the election victory. Stahl described going to meet with him at Trump Tower before the interview, along with one of her bosses, whom she did not name. After Trump began to unload on the news media, she said, she asked him whether he planned to stop attacking the press — a hallmark of his campaign — now that he had been elected.
“I said, you know that is getting tired, why are you doing this — you’re doing it over and over and it’s boring,” Stahl said. “He said you know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
Stahl's striking anecdote fell into a silent moment in the room. Woodruff shook her head.
“He said that,” Stahl said, raising her eyebrows. “So put that in your head for a minute.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Trump's belligerence toward the news media, which he lambastes as “fake news,” and journalists, whom he often calls “dishonest,” have continued to be an integral part of his presidency, part of a habit of attacking critics and other institutions that act as potential checks on his power.
The broadsides have been mimicked by politicians and others running for elected office around the country, and parroted by foreign leaders around the world, many with poor human rights records and reputations. The wife of Alabama judge and failed Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore described The Washington Post's reporting on sexual misconduct allegations against Moore as “fake news,” for example.
Trump has falsely claimed credit for the phrase, which he called the “one of the greatest of all terms I've come up with” — one of more than 3,000 false or misleading claims he has made as President according to a running tally compiled by The Post's Fact Checker column. The term had previously been used to describe phony stories that had gained traction on Facebook during the election year.
But Trump's relentless attacks on journalists and the work they put out has had an effect.
A poll in April found three out of four Americans believe that traditional news organizations report “fake news,” though the term's meaning has become murky. (Another survey this year found that 42 percent of Republicans believed that stories that were accurate but negative qualified as “fake news.")
But perhaps Trump has tipped his hand, dismissing information and reporting that has later been shown publicly to be true.
In March, he attacked the New York Times and reporter Maggie Haberman after a report that disclosed discussions he was having with veteran Washington lawyer Emmet T. Flood ahead of a potential shake-up of Trump's legal team dealing with the Russia inquiry.
“The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out,” Trump tweeted. “Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job.”
The Times said at the time that it stood by its reporting.
And by the first week of May, Flood had been publicly welcomed to the President's legal team by the White House. Cobb announced his departure. And Dowd had long since quit.
The story was sound.
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