President-elect Donald Trump on Monday told a group of about 25 television executives and anchors that he wants a “cordial” and “productive” relationship with the media, according to one source in the room, but he still aired some grievances during the off-the-record gathering in Trump Tower.
The source said the meeting started with a typical Trump complaint about the “dishonest media,” and that he specifically singled out CNN and NBC News for example as “the worst.”
He also complained about photos of himself that NBC used that he found unflattering, the source said.
Trump turned to NBC News President Deborah Turness at one point, the source said, and told her the network won’t run a nice picture of him, instead choosing “this picture of me,” as he made a face with a double chin. Turness replied that they had a “very nice” picture of him on their website at the moment.
NBC spokespeople did not immediately return a request for comment.
Trump also singled out CNN, the source said, without elaborating on what the president-elect said about the network. A CNN spokeswoman wrote in an email that the network would not comment on an off-the-record meeting.
The New York Post on Monday afternoon portrayed a much more heated meeting, including a quote from one source who said the encounter was “like a f–ing firing squad.” The Post also said Trump called CNN journalists “liars” and that they should be “ashamed.”
The source who spoke with POLITICO characterized the meeting as less intense, and said the discussion included Trump expressing the possibility of a “reset” of the tumultuous relationship between the president-elect and the media and that all he wants is “fairness.”
Asked how he defines fairness by a network executive, Trump said simply, “The truth.”
But aside from the few moments of contention in the beginning, the source said the meeting was largely substantive.
Trump, flanked by chief of staff Reince Priebus and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway at the table, also expressed annoyance at the protective press pool and the complaints over him ditching the press when he went out to dinner last week with his family after reporters were advised he was in for the night. But Priebus assured the attendees that the protective press pool will be taken care of and it would all work out.
Other attendees at the meeting from Trump’s team included chief strategist Stephen Bannon, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, spokesman Jason Miller, and Republican National Committee chief strategist and communications director Sean Spicer.
Asked for comment, Miller referred POLITICO to Conway’s comments to reporters after the meeting, in which she echoed the sentiments made in the meeting about turning over a new leaf with the media.
“There was no need to mend fences,” Conway said. “It was very cordial, very genial. But it was very candid and very honest. From my own perspective, it’s great to hit the reset button.”
Conway later on Monday hit back at the New York Post report. “He did not explode in anger,” she said.
Attendees asked questions such as what Trump plans to accomplish in the first 100 days, what he’s learned from his intelligence briefings and what he looks for while interviewing his Cabinet picks. Trump said he believes it is time to have someone from the military as secretary of defense and mentioned that former presidential candidate Mitt Romney “really wants” the secretary of state position.
He described the situation in Syria, according to the source, as “Holocaust-like” and was effusive in his praise of President Barack Obama, the source added, telling the media assembled that after their White House meeting the two have spoken by phone at least twice.
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