For theater of the absurd, you could not beat the scene at the White House Monday afternoon. On the back steps of the Oval Office leading to the Rose Garden President Donald Trump trotted out Senator Mitch McConnell as the two renewed their vows for the media.
The President, who had only one full news conference with the open press corps in the last nine months sprang out of the box with a full-tilt boogie ride with the media on a moment’s notice.
He grimaced, he answered questions, and he directed traffic. Sometimes he waved his right index finger around like an orchestra conductor before settling on one of the 150 reporters, photographers and sound technicians who pressed closer on him with each passing minute.
It is all part of the “New Normal” at the White House that began sometime in the last few weeks as Trump has increasingly become more friendly with a press corps he routinely refers to as “Fake News.”
It began when Fox News reporter John Roberts waved at Trump as the president walked out to Marine One one day. Instead of walking away, the president walked up and took John’s question. Then he stayed and took a few more.
The next time he walked out to Marine One the same scenario repeated itself. I was standing right in front of the boom microphones and near John Roberts, so only about six feet separated me and the President and I got in three questions that day.
Other reporters have had similar experiences. If Trump sees a reporter he recognizes or likes, then he’ll amble up in a slow gate, putting his hand to his ear and then will answer questions for about 10 minutes before he waves and disappears into the helicopter.
Monday afternoon as Trump left the White House several reporters cleared out a space near the boom microphones on the South Lawn for Roberts. But he didn’t show up – he had to do a live shot. The president didn’t stop as he walked by – he didn’t see anyone he liked. “Get John. Get John!” Some of the reporters shouted. But it was a no-go. The president boarded his helicopter with a mere wave.
It is hard these days to cover a president who seems to enjoy employing P.T. Barnum tactics to governing one of the world’s most powerful nations. It’s even harder to watch him denigrate my profession. Remembering the men and women in the press who’ve died trying to cover the news just in my lifetime, and considering the fact I was jailed four times to protect a confidential source, and have been shot at and beaten in the pursuit of news, watching the president wave his finger like a wand at reporters and call us “Fake News” may be a part of the “New Normal,” at the White House – but it should have no part in a civil society.