Earlier Monday at Trump Tower in New York City, President-elect Donald Trump, top aides and advisers including Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer met with executives and anchors from five major television networks. Trump used the opportunity to admonish the network’s journalists and executives for what he said was the networks’ unfair coverage of him. But he also said he wanted to re-frame his relationship with the press and took extensive questions about policy and his intentions in office.
This account is largely based on an interview with an attendee who took detailed notes.
Among the participants from the news side were ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and David Muir, NBC’s Lester Holt and NBC news president Deborah Turness, CBS’s John Dickerson, Gayle King, and Norah O’Donnell, Fox News’ Bill Shine and Jay Wallace, MSNBC’s Phil Griffin, and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Jeff Zucker. The meeting’s content was to be off-the-record but many participants were photographed as they entered through the Trump Tower lobby. The New York Post’s Page Six gossip site had a detailed version that appeared to put the event in the most contentious light possible.
Trump started the meeting by saying how great it was for so many network news anchors to be there, calling it unprecedented and citing it as a reflection of the importance of his election. Ultimately, Blitzer noted that such meetings were a fairly common annual ritual between presidents and anchors ahead of State of the Union addresses. Trump then said the presence of the executives made the meeting unprecedented.
Trump lit out after Zucker, criticizing his former business partner (Zucker was head of NBC during Trump’s Apprentice franchise on the network) for CNN. He turned then to NBC, saying it was the worst, criticizing its reporters, and saying it could not even come up with a flattering picture to broadcast. His complaint: the network’s photographs showed him with multiple chins. NBC President Deborah Turness replied that wasn’t true – NBC right now is using a photograph that shows Trump in very flattering way, she said. Trump also criticized a reporter who he said was in the room who had moderated a debate but who he had been told was very upset when Clinton lost. Presumably that was a reference to ABC’s Martha Raddatz or NBC’s Lester Holt.
Conway interceded to say that the new Trump administration appreciated the press corps’s hard work during the campaign and wanted a reset on its relationship to the press. Trump concurred and repeated the point, though he said he disliked the phrase “reset” because it reminded him of Hillary Clinton’s initial outreach to the Russians when she was starting as Secretary of State.
Trump said he wanted a relationship with the press that was “cordial and productive.” CBS’s Gayle King asked what would constitute such a relationship but it wasn’t clear what that meant beyond off the record meetings such as that one.
After that first 10 to 15 minutes, according to this attendee, Trump invited questions about his policies, appointments, and intentions, showing an interest in detail and implications.
The participant who spoke to NPR said Trump appeared as though he was irritated but working the refs, as when then President George W. Bush complained the press was acting as the filter of his remarks and policies. However a second source – a network official debriefed by colleagues who attended – said it did not feel like a reset of the relationship to them.
The off-the-record meeting lasted about an hour. And Trump posted a video on social media – bypassing the conventional press – to explain to the public, on the record, how the presidential transition was proceeding.