Trump’s pre-emptive strike at the press is ranting

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s first solo White House news conference as president Thursday, launched with little advance notice, was a bold and aggressive strategy to co-opt one of the news media’s prime information vehicles.

He filibustered for more than an hour of the traditional meeting of president and the Washington press corps, reiterating his charge that they deliberately distort and misrepresent what he does and says, dismissing much of their output as “fake news.”

With his young administration already in turmoil after a major clash with the judicial branch over immigration and the firing of his fledgling national security adviser, he had the effrontery to boast that it was “running like a fine-turned machine.”

He railed that he had “inherited a mess” from his predecessor despite the facts that he was handed an economy salvaged from the Great Recession with an unemployment rate cut in half. He even had the gall to say, “I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.” Many critics might agree, but not in the sense he claimed.

Trump, in holding a news conference of his own volition, returned to his 2016 campaign tactic of attacking the fourth estate, calling the reporters “the dishonest media” to their faces and taunting them. He said he won “with news conferences and probably speeches. I certainly didn’t win by people listening to you people.”

In a gloating mood, he denied he was “ranting and raving,” adding, “I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.” In a way, he was putting on a reprise for his loyalists at the news media’s expense, even to the point of repeating some of the lies he regularly offered on the campaign trail.

When he again claimed that voter fraud cost him the popular vote, Peter Alexander of NBC News reminded Trump of his false claim that he won the Electoral College by the largest margin since Ronald Reagan. The reporter quoted the greater vote totals that Reagan and three other presidents had received, to which Trump replied: “Well, I don’t know. I was given that information.”

As the newsgathering world sought clues to the disturbing relationship between Trump’s presidency and the Russian regime whose hacking into the American political system roiled the 2016 campaign that put him in the Oval Office, Trump dismissed it all as a Russian “ruse.”

He insisted he had no business interests in Russia or anything to do with the conversations the departed national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak over sanctions. Yet he offered that he would have supported Flynn had he known, and said the only reason he fired Flynn was that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the matter, causing his own confidence in Flynn to be “eroded.”

In sum, the president’s decision to walk voluntarily into the assumed lion’s den of an open-ended press conference in the East Room was a display not only of the Trump bravado so endearing to his flock. It also was a self-indulgence of his genuine contempt for a press corps he has skillfully dodged while demeaning it for more than a year.

With self-praising declarations of what he’s already done and intends to do, and by continuing to revisit his victory over Hillary Clinton, the new president offered very few answers to pressing questions raised by his actions and observations so far.

There is no indication of any retreat by the most diligent investigative journalists, particularly at the New York Times and Washington Post, working overtime examining Trump’s business enterprises, conflicts of interest and serial falsehoods.

The Russian “ruse,” as Trump calls, is now stirring even some Republicans in Congress to invoke their own committee investigative and subpoena powers to pursue the truth. They have said they want to call Flynn and officials of the FBI and other intelligence agencies to testify on the troublesome matter of foreign interference in the hallowed American political process.

Meanwhile, the journalistic foot soldiers assigned to the White House beat can be counted on to keep calling its current occupant on his footloose familiarity with the truth, as fruitless as it may be.