CBS News anchor Scott Pelley asked President Donald Trump during a private lunch Tuesday for news anchors whether Trump worried if his charged anti-press rhetoric, including dismissing media outlets as “fake news,” could result in retaliation against journalists and attacks on newsrooms, according to attendees.
Trump didn’t respond specifically to Pelley’s hypothetical, but more broadly told attendees he simply wanted to be treated fairly by the press. Trump said he hadn’t been watching some networks lately because they hadn’t covered him fairly, but didn’t specify which ones, according to attendees.
The president has never been shy about airing his grievances with the news media, but in recent weeks has only escalated the attacks by calling the media the “enemy of the American people” and alleging Friday that journalists fabricate sources in order to mislead the public. Trump’s remarks as president follow him routinely vilifying the press at campaign rallies to the cheers of supporters ― and at times prompting concerns for journalists’ safety.
It’s a tradition for the president to have lunch with news anchors to preview the State of the Union speech that night. The gathering is typically off the record, though journalists were permitted Tuesday to use some information on background, attributed to a senior administration official. Although journalists couldn’t record the event, some inside and outside the White House took photos.
The Trump White House expanded media outreach from previous years by having the president dine Monday night with representatives from 18 regional outlets before Tuesday’s lunch, which featured anchors from major networks and hosts and correspondents from comparatively smaller outlets brought into the mix.
Some of the journalists in attendance Tuesday were CBS News’ Pelley and John Dickerson, ABC News’ David Muir and George Stephanopoulos, NBC News’ Lester Holt and Chuck Todd, Fox News’ Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, PBS’s Judy Woodruff, One America News Network’s Trey Yingst, C-SPAN’s Steve Scully and TV One’s Roland Martin.
First lady Melania Trump visited at the beginning of the lunch, which also included White House press secretary Sean Spicer, assistant to the president Hope Hicks, and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway.
The lunchtime conversation, focused on issues coming up at Tuesday’s address, was cordial, said attendees, and didn’t resemble Trump’s closed-door broadsides against network executives and anchors at Trump Tower shortly after his election victory.