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Trump Takes On Media For Questioning His Fundraising Efforts For Veterans


It's not exactly news that Donald Trump doesn't like the media. But recently, he's been taking that sentiment to new heights - or lows, depending on your perspective. Here he was Tuesday at a press conference, setting, perhaps, a new standard for a presidential candidate's relationship with reporters.


DONALD TRUMP: Look, the media - you know my opinion of the media. It's very low. I think the media is, frankly, made up of people that, in many cases - not in all cases - are not good people.

CHANG: What raised Trump's hackles this time were questions from The Washington Post about whether he had actually raised and distributed $6 million for veterans' causes, as he's been claiming for months. We called up NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and asked him whether this week marked Trump's worst attack on the press so far in his campaign.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Oh, no. I mean, look, he's sued a reporter before. He really went after Megyn Kelly of Fox News, if you remember, after that very first Republican primary debate last August. He mocked the physical disability of a New York Times reporter who suffers from a degenerative disease. I mean, he's done some pretty brutal and, in some ways, vile things towards reporters in his speech.

CHANG: But there was something different about the remarks that he made on Tuesday. I mean, he spent 40 minutes talking, much of it blasting away at the media - this issue about veterans' donations. Why do you think this issue got under his skin so much?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, a lot of the time when Donald Trump's been responding to controversies during this campaign season, they've been controversies of his own making - something he said, some outrage. These are things that he's tossed off. In this case, Donald Trump made a public promise to raise money for veterans' groups and said he had essentially achieved that goal through his fundraiser back in January. In this case, The Washington Post and other news outlets had been looking into how much money veterans' group had gotten from the Trump fundraiser and found that it was a lot short of that $6 million goal. And the real question's whether or not Donald himself had made good on the promise to give a million dollars towards the $6 million himself.

CHANG: Do you think we got an answer to reporters' questions about these veterans donations and the timing of those donations?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, I think we got a fairly reasonable accounting. We don't know all the answers, perhaps. But there's real itemization of money and where it went. And a lot of that relied on reporters making calls and getting confirmation. But Trump himself came forward and identified groups and talked about the levels of contributions. And there was much more information this week than we had just a few days ago. The process worked. I mean, Trump has been bashing the heck out of the press as a result of it. But the press was able to hold him accountable.

CHANG: You felt that his answers were more specific than maybe previous answers have been in the past when he's engaged with the media and has responded to the media about any sorts of allegations?

FOLKENFLIK: Oh, it's like trying to keep hold of an eel or something. I mean, he's very slippery about answering actual questions. There's subterfuge. There's imprecision of language. Sometimes the sentences aren't fully coherent when he's being pinned down on something. Or he just changes gears and talks about something entirely different. All politicians are capable of doing this. But Trump is a master of this, as he is in so many ways, of eluding the press's grasp. I mean, if you think about the fact that Trump has not released his tax returns yet, this is something a presumptive nominee of a major American political party might be expected to do in a presidential race. His earlier financial disclosure forms are all over the map - very amorphous in terms of what they actually reveal. So Trump does not like having the details of his actions and transactions pinned down.

CHANG: You've argued that Trump has been able to drive the news cycle day after day. How has he been able to do that in your opinion?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Trump will make an announcement to step on the momentum of a rival. You saw that with Marco Rubio starting to pick up steam at one point early in the primaries. And suddenly, Trump pulled the Chris Christie announcement of an endorsement out of thin air seemingly. And he had been holding that back. He had, I believe, hoped to do that at a later moment. But that was the right time. And he also will say things that are insulting. What it does is it directs attention away from other candidates who may be trying to get airtime for their policy proposal, their positions, their candidacies. And it really kind of hijacks the news cycle. I think it has also hijacked the attention of the press to the extent that for many months, they weren't giving Donald Trump the kind of due diligence, the kind of tough scrutiny in his business life that you would give to a politician for his earlier political life. And I think Trump did that by feeding the press so much. It was irresistible to the press. The ratings show it. The clicks show it. This will be a time of high profits for cable news. But it meant that, for many months, he was able to escape different kind of scrutiny that I think would have served the voter better.

CHANG: Thank you so much, David.


CHANG: That was NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik
David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.