US President Donald Trump found time to attack CNN, NBC and the British tabloid The Sun, and offer fashion advice to a fourth news organization, while talking to reporters Friday with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
The leaders faced sharp questions at a news conference following their talks, which came between a reportedly contentious meeting of NATO representatives and Trump’s upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Frequent Trump foil Jim Acosta of CNN tried to ask a question at one point and was rebuffed by the president.
“CNN is fake news,” Trump said. “I don’t take questions from CNN.
“Let’s go to a real network,” Trump said, pointing to John Roberts of Fox News Channel. Roberts asked if there was any way that relations with Russia would improve as long as the country occupied Crimea.
A day earlier, Trump took a question from CNN’s Jeremy Diamond following the NATO meeting. And as Friday’s session with May was breaking up, Acosta shouted, “Mr. President, will you ask Putin to stay out of U.S. elections?”
Trump turned around and answered yes.
Roberts, a veteran of CBS News and CNN, took some withering criticism online for not standing up for Acosta in the moment or, perhaps, ceding the microphone to his colleague.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper tweeted that he was “old enough to remember when other networks came to the defense of Fox News WH correspondents during the Obama years. Such did not happen here. Lesson for the kids out there: no one should ever try to do the right thing with the expectation that it will ever be reciprocated.”
Media solidarity has become an issue with White House briefings lately, as some journalists suggest that reporters should band together to prevent press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders from changing the subject to avoid answering questions. It hasn’t happened to any appreciable degree.
Roberts said later that he paused when Acosta and Trump went back and forth, and asked his own question when it became clear the president would not entertain one from CNN.
He noted he used to work at CNN. “There are some fine journalists who work there and risk their lives to report on stories around the world,” Roberts said. “To issue a blanket condemnation of the network as ‘fake news’ is ... unfair.”
Roberts also said it was similarly wrong for Trump to call Kristen Welker of NBC News dishonest. “She is as honest as the day is long,” he said.
Trump took offense Friday when Welker asked him, “Are you giving Russian President Vladimir Putin the upper hand heading into your talks given that you are challenging the alliances that he is seeking to break up and defeat?”
Trump called it dishonest reporting. “Of course it happens to be NBC, which is possibly worse than CNN,” he said. Welker was cut off when she tried to reply.
NBC News had no comment on the exchange. Margaret Talev, president of the White House Correspondents Association, said that “asking smart, tough questions, whether in a presidential press conference or interview, is central to the role a free press plays in a healthy republic.”
“Saying a news organization isn’t real doesn’t change the facts and won’t stop us from doing our jobs,” Talev said.
All of the cable news networks, along with ABC, CBS and NBC, carried the news conference live. Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” promised the show would fact-check the session live, much as it had done the day before following a NATO meeting. Co-host Joe Scarborough frequently broke in while Trump talked on Thursday, calling some of his claims untrue.
But MSNBC didn’t break in to the Trump-May session Friday. There was no indication whether the live fact-check was considered a failed experiment, or whether it would be repeated on “Morning Joe” or any other show.
Trump was questioned Friday about critical statements he had made about May in an interview this week with The Sun, where he said she hadn’t taken his advice about Brexit negotiations and he praised her political rival. He criticized the newspaper for not printing the positive things he said about May, although he later softened his stance when it was pointed out that the Sun released audio portions of the interview.
“I said very nice things about her,” he said. “They didn’t put it in the headline. I wish they’d put it in the headline.”
The Sun’s headline: “Trump’s Brexit Blast: Donald Trump told Theresa May how to do Brexit ‘but she wrecked it’ -- and says the US trade deal is off.”
In a statement, the Sun said it stood by its reporting. “To say the president called us ‘fake news’ with any serious intent is, well ... fake news.”
During one awkward moment in the news conference, Trump called attention to Reuters reporter Jeff Mason’s hat. Roberts, sitting next to him, playfully doffed the hat to reveal Mason’s bald head.
“I like you better without the hat,” Trump said.
Mason took it off and asked his question.