Washington bureau chiefs' view of Trump: He craves media approval

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Despite all the bashing, he still needs validation

If Donald Trump is not smart enough to be evil, as John Oliver said Sunday on HBO, he is clearly smart enough to curry favor with the media.

Is Trump — the man who's the primary reason that even half-hearted respect for the press among huge swaths of conservatives is plummeting — a huge, incredible, unbelievable, tremendous (as he might put it) suck-up?

"Absolutely," said Julie Pace, the Associated Press Washington bureau chief, during a packed session Tuesday at Northwestern University.

Okay, semi-fake news alert: The question Pace was answering specifically was whether Trump covets "the approval" of the media. But it might as well have been, "Is he a press courtesan?"

Pace was on a sharp, engaging and even fun panel at the Medill Journalism School with Elisabeth Bumiller, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, and Susan Page, the capital bureau chief of USA Today. Yes, all women at the top of a male-dominated craft and all Medill graduates, thus part of a Medill alumni army in Washington that far exceeds in number the ISIS domestic terrorist cells fretted over by Fox News Channel. Seriously, they are everywhere and include the likes of ESPN's Mike Wilbon and USA Today's Christine Brennan.

They were all modest but forthright on issues including coverage of the 2016 campaign; their readily exploiting rifts among White House factions; the penchant of reporters to be too opinionated on social media; the possibility that the Trump administration is more compliant with Freedom of Information Act requests than the frequently stonewalling Obama administration; and the uncertainties of viable business models for local news outlets (as opposed to far more robust Washington operations).

And, then, unavoidably there was Trump himself. He's the reason their basic work lives are altered and verge on the exhausting, as they outlined early in a chat with Medill senior associate dean Tim Franklin, the former president of the Poynter Institute.

They all portrayed a man who craves establishment press approval even as he scores points with his base by incessantly bashing it. And, as I've found, his initial associations upon first meetings are TV-driven. When Pace recounted his saying, "You're Julie Pace, I see you on television," it was identical to my own recollection of our first encounter (he even named specific shows in my case, surely never having read a single word I'd written).

Pace referenced Bumiller's paper, saying Trump so wants mentions of him on The Times front page to be positive. "It's very important to him." He knows CNN is not favorably disposed, she said, but so wants its backing. "He covets the praise of the media in a way I haven't experienced before."

"'Susan, I so admire your work,'" Page recalled him saying. She, too, figured it was seeing her on television, not her primary print efforts over decades.

Bumiller noted how Trump grew up in New York reading The Times, wants its approval and gets very upset when he doesn't get it.

He's also more accessible than any modern president, Page said. That not only means in talking to reporters but giving daily windows into his temperament of the moment via those mercurial tweets.

Is that all salutary? Obviously not. As Bumiller underscored, yes, he's at least superficially more open. But that can be deceiving. "It doesn't mean you actually know what' going on." Especially when it comes to the aim of quietly dismantling many tried-and-true regulations.

Morning Babel

It took "Trump & Friends" six minutes before it mentioned Tuesday's Democratic victories, then held up The New York Times front page's "Democrats Score Two Big Victories in Trump Rebuke." Instead, it focused on Trump's speech to the South Korea legislature, while rivals MSNBC and CNN were in overdrive heralding the Democratic wins as significant (among the few cautionary notes were those struck by "Morning Joe's" Mika Brzezinski). "For the first time in a year, they have a reason to smile," said Jim VandeHei on "Morning Joe," while Ron Brownstein argued that it would be folderol to maintain Trump still maintains his base, given fractures in the more independent portion of the base, notably in races for the Virginia Legislature.

As for the speech in Seoul, here are three similar tales that just might leave little doubt we are living in different times:

From The Washington Post: "Trump promotes his New Jersey golf course during speech to South Korea parliament."

From The Hill: "Trump touts New Jersey golf club during South Korea speech."

From the Huffington Post: "Trump Plugged His Golf Resort In A Speech Before The South Korean Legislature"

You missed it last night? Yup, a whole lot of talk about Korean golfers, especially the females who dominated a big summer tournament at his course in Bedminster, New Jersey (yes, he mentioned Bedminster).

"Boy, that's really going to help Republican candidates in swing districts in the future, that you have a president that continues to use his position to actually promote his business interests," said Joe Scarborough this morning.

Disney retires this week's Corporate Stupidity Award

It's only Wednesday but no more applications will be received since "Amid a growing backlash, the Walt Disney Company on Tuesday reversed its decision to bar The Los Angeles Times from press screenings of its movies following an investigation by the newspaper into the media giant’s business dealings in Anaheim."

There'd been instant backlash, including some organizations saying they'd boycott screenings and, thus, reviewing Disney product. Right before the Disney mea culpa, Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday emailed me, "I'm as appalled at Disney's petty, heavy-handed behavior as the rest of my colleagues. As a member of the National Society of Film Critics, I endorse the group's decision to remove Disney's movies from awards consideration until the company reinstates the L.A. Times to its pre-release screening program."

"There are no Disney screenings on my current schedule, and my hope is that the issue will be resolved by the time the next Disney movie is released. My editors and I agree that our chief allegiance is to Washington Post readers, and their interests will come first as we decide next steps should they arise."

Is this the sort of media attention that corporate communications departments are actually paid for?

Despite retiring Stupid Award, Disney goes after Fox assets

The Wall Street Journal underscores, "Walt Disney Co.’s market capitalization is almost twice as big as Netflix Inc.’s. It operates the most successful movie studio in Hollywood, one of the most profitable channels on cable television and the biggest theme-park business in the world."

"Yet its pursuit of 21st Century Fox Inc.’s entertainment assets indicates that repositioning its television business to compete in the streaming, a-la-carte world Netflix dominates has become Disney’s top priority."

News quiz

Rachel Maddow or Laura Ingraham?

"The more we learn about Devin Patrick Kelley, the more shocking it is that he was ever able to purchase a gun"

Bzzzz, time's up.

Ingraham last night on Fox. She added:

"Not only did this freak assault his wife, and fracture the skull of his stepson, but he also escaped from a mental hospital in that same time frame."

A funereal Fox

It was pretty melancholy at Fox last evening as Republican Ed Gillespie lost the Virginia governor's race. As The New York Times' Michael Tackett put it, "For Ed Gillespie, Trumpism was an ill-fitting suit."

"His résumé was pure establishment — national Republican Party chairman, counselor to President George W. Bush, well-connected K Street lobbyist. But the messaging of his campaign for governor of Virginia was that of a cultural flamethrower, emphasizing crimes by undocumented immigrants, monuments to Confederate heroes, even suggesting that his opponent, a pediatric neurologist, supported child pornographers."

"As the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, Mr. Gillespie tried to run in a very narrow lane, by embracing some of the most divisive elements of President Trump’s agenda while treating him like Voldemort and mostly refusing to utter his name. It was enough to motivate Mr. Trump’s supporters in rural parts of the state, but fell far short in Northern Virginia, where the wealthy and well-educated voters who were once reliably Republican continued their march toward becoming solidly Democratic."

A sprightly review about aging

Kudos to Dwight Garner of The New York Times, who was clearly not liking the start of a new book that's essentially a debate on aging between University of Chicago academics Martha Nussbaum (a prolific polymath) and her good friend Saul Levmore. Early on in his review, he writes:

"You will definitely not open 'Aging Thoughtfully' because of its cover, which could hardly be more unappealing. It depicts a cross-section of a tree trunk and is the color of faux wood paneling. It is redolent of fondue sets, lesser Gordon Lightfoot albums and hometowns you hope to flee."

"What’s inside is as dull as what’s outside, at least early on. This book starts slowly, and it takes time to adjust to the steady incursions of academic throat clearing ('I will again emphasize,' 'I shall return to that point in my next section,' 'I work toward the idea')."

"Academic presses should install software that eliminates these phrases on contact. They don’t suggest thinking as much as they suggest a carpenter who has left sawdust on the floor."

Now get this: He winds up liking it a whole lot.

Women running Minneapolis

Well, not quite. But Kari Patey has been named WCCO-TV news director, meaning that the news directors at all the city's big stations are women: Patey, Jane Helmke of KARE, Anne Wittenborg at KSTP and Marian Davey of KMSP.

Trump also seeking tax breaks for himself

The Chicago Sun-Times has been breaking stories on how Ed Burke, a notorious and powerful Chicago alderman, has gotten rich as a private attorney. They include how Burke "has filed yet another lawsuit aiming to win property-tax refunds for the hotel and vacant retail space owned and operated by President Donald Trump in his namesake skyscraper along the Chicago River."

"It’s the sixth lawsuit Burke has filed on behalf of Trump, seeking to win millions of dollars in refunds on property taxes collected as far back as 2009 for the Chicago Board of Education, the city of Chicago, Cook County government and other taxing agencies."

Trump and taxes in Chicago? Here's their latest opus

Donna Brazile's muckraking rehab tour

Brazile is proof that men don't have a monopoly (though they come close) on turning modest professional achievement into great success in Washington. Now it's all bit endangered as she vents about Hillary Clinton in her new book, "Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that put Donald Trump in the White House."

I wondered the other day whether her longtime TV patrons might now find her radioactive and if Fox, which would love even a vague hint of animus toward Clinton, might throw a lifeline to the most establishment and (until now) predictable of liberal Democrats if old chums at CNN and ABC turn their backs.

And then I was watching last evening as Tucker Carlson promoted her first book-related cable TV appearance on his show Wednesday. She's No. 5 on Amazon and should be moving up after she hawks her wares to Clinton naysayers.

The view of the Paradise Papers tax haven investigation from Islamabad

"Lawmakers want to rain hell on Paradise," writes The Express Tribune

If she's No. 5 ...

Pete Souza, the Obama White House photographer and former Chicago Tribune stalwart, is at No. 3 on the Amazon list with his photo-driven book on the Obama years that was published Tuesday. That puts him ahead of Brazile and, at No. 4, Oprah Winfrey

Quote of the day

From Bloomberg View: "Social Media Has Failed Its Self-Driving Test — Most agree that algorithms aren't ready to drive cars without human supervision. Neither are they fit to manage Facebook, Twitter or YouTube."

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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