On Wednesday, CNN’s Sara Murray reported that President Trump manipulated a team of CNN anchors into providing him with hours of positive coverage ahead of his first speech to Congress on Tuesday night.
During the “Sara’s Notebook” segment, Murray characterized what Trump told the anchors at the White House on Tuesday as “the bait and switch that the president pulled when it came to immigration yesterday.”
“He had this meeting with the anchors, he talked about a path to legal status,” Murray, a D.C.-based political reporter, said. “Basically they fed us things that they thought these anchors would like, that they thought would give them positive press coverage for the next few hours. A senior administration official admitted that it was a misdirection play.”
Trump, who also flirted with a compromise immigration position during a rough patch of his campaign last August, ended up getting the coverage he desired.
Murray went on to note that “when the president was actually out there speaking to the American public, he didn’t talk about a path to legal status.”
“He talk about reforming the legal immigration system so it’s merit-based. That means fewer low-skilled workers, fewer people coming on family ties, more people coming on high-skilled visas,” she added. “That is still closer to a Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon framework of the world than Gang of Eight, who pushed comprehensive immigration reform.”
Host John King responded by observing that “it does make you wonder, so we’re not supposed to believe what the senior-most official at the lunch says… maybe we shouldn’t believe what they say.”
The White House was happy enough with the coverage of Trump’s speech that officials decided to postpone signing a new Muslim Ban executive order, which was originally planned for Wednesday, so the administration could fully bask in the positive news cycle. Not even a month ago, Trump argued that an immediate ban was necessary for urgent national security reasons.
Just as he has with immigration policy, Trump has flip-flopped about his Muslim ban. During an interview last May, Trump, who originally called “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on” in December 2015, reversed course and said the ban “hasn’t been called for yet” and is “just a suggestion.”
But after the June mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Trump reiterated his call for a ban. Trump repeatedly unleashed his most anti-Islam rhetoric in the immediate wake of terror attacks, when Islamophobic sentiment is more prominent than it otherwise is.
During the transition period after the election, President-elect Trump distracted the media from his plans to profit off the presidency by tweeting out criticisms of Saturday Night Live and the actors and producers of Hamilton. He never divested from his business, but took advantage of a well-established media norm — if the president-elect says something, it’s news — and manipulated the media into publishing stories like this:
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) November 30, 2016
Trump appointed white nationalists to some of the most powerful positions in his administration, but the media covered his meetings with Mitt Romney instead.
In late November, Trump adviser Newt Gringrich explained how Trump does it.
“He understands the value of showmanship,” Gingrich said during a Fox News interview. “And candidly, the news media is going to chase the rabbit. So it’s better off for him to give them a rabbit than for them to go find their own rabbit. He’s had them fixated on Mitt Romney now for five or six days. I think from his perspective, that’s terrific. It gives everyone something to talk about.”