For sheer entertainment value, you couldn’t beat it. Donald Trump’s sprawling – and first solo – press conference was a glimpse of the US presidency as reality TV. Here was a man utterly unsuited to the task at hand, bluffing and blustering his way through it on live television. It was like watching Howard Beale’s meltdown during the evening news – just too gripping not to watch.
What, if anything, did we learn?
1. He loathes the BBC. Not surprisingly. Maybe it was Laura Kuenssberg’s pointed question at the joint press conference with Theresa May last month, maybe some other slight. But no – he’s not a fan. ‘Here’s another beauty,’ Trump said sarcastically when Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America Editor, introduced himself. ‘Impartial, free and fair,’ protested Sopel. ‘Just like CNN, right?’ replied the president, bitterly. This relationship with Britain’s public broadcaster, far from special, will be one to watch during Trump’s visit to the UK later this year.
2. ‘Fake news’ has become ‘very fake news’. President Truman referred to life inside the White House as like living in a jail. Well, as with most inmates, Trump seems to spend half his time watching TV. Particularly the morning and evening shows (he is obsessed with their ratings and seems to monitor them as much as he does his own approval ratings). The media, he said, ‘will take this news conference… and they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press’’. Referring to CNN, he said he was changing his charge ‘from fake news’ to ‘very fake news’. He did get a good laugh from this.
3. Trump enjoys ranting and raving at the press. When attacking ‘dishonest’ journalists, he really did seem to be ‘having a good time’, as he put it. Plainly it’s going to become a running theme of this presidency. A shame the US news networks seem to be taking the bait: they asked him more about his attacks on them than about the president’s plans to make America great again, or links to Russia.
4. Trump is ramping up his war on US intelligence. ‘The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake,’ he said. Bizarre though it may be to see one branch of the executive attacking another branch of the executive, however, it may be short-lived. ‘I think you’ll see it stopping because now we have our people in,’ he said.
5. The Russia problem isn’t going away. Trump claimed (at length): ‘I have nothing to do with Russia. No person that I deal with does. Manafort [his former campaign manager] totally denied it. People knew he was a consultant in that part of the world but not for Russia — I think people having to do with Ukraine or whoever, but people knew that. Everybody knew that.’ Hmm. If he is wrong about any of this – and he did seem a tad shifty on the subject – this is the one section of this bizarre press conference that will haunt him.