Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, doubled down on Trump's vocal warnings to the press and advised Americans to take President Trump’s attacks on the media “seriously,” following the president’s denunciations of the press as the “enemy.”
“There’s been a debate about when to take the president seriously,” CBS’ John Dickerson said in a “Face the Nation” interview with Priebus Saturday. “He recently tweeted that the press was the enemy of the American people. Should we take that seriously from him?”
“Well, I think you should take it seriously,” Priebus replied. “I think that the problem we’ve got is that we’re talking about bogus stories like the one in the New York Times, that we’ve had constant contact with Russian officials. The next day, the Wall Street Journal had a story that the intel community was not giving the president a full intelligence briefing. Both stories grossly inaccurate, overstated, overblown, and it’s total garbage. So we spend 48 hours on bogus stories. And the American people suffer. So I do think it's a problem. And I think that the media needs to, in some cases -- not every case, John -- but in some cases really needs to get its act together.”
"The enemy?" CBS anchor John Dickerson pressed. Well, maybe not so much the media as their corporate owners.
In any case Priebus responded that "if the theory is that the press is supposed to be a free forum of information to speak to the American people, I think it ought to be accurate," and echoed Trump's criticism saying the "media is willing to run with unnamed sources, apparently false, leaked documents to create stories. I think that the media should stop with this unnamed source stuff, put names on a piece of paper and print it. If people aren't willing to put their name next to a quote, then the quote shouldn't be listed," Priebus said.
But why is the media the enemy? Priebus' response: "I think in our case we have a total feeding frenzy that has gotten so out of control."
Priebus then said that the major story out of the White House is a “story of accomplishment,” pointing to the administration’s work in pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, issuing executive actions, and nominating a Supreme Court justice, among other things.
Dickerson asked how the chief of staff would respond to anyone that could “act on that declaration by the president” that the press was the “enemy.”
“I don’t know what you mean by act on it,” Priebus said. “I mean, certainly we would never condone violence. But I do think that we condone critical thought.”
“We’re talking about stupidity and intelligence reporting that is based on facts that’s not coming out of the actual heads of these intelligence agencies,” Priebus said of recent media reports. “And we’re sitting here talking about it. And it’s a shame. And it needs to end.”
Trump's chief of staff was also asked about Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and his recent criticisms at a Munich security conference that the audience would be “alarmed by the growing inability and even unwillingness to separate truth from lies.”
“I don’t even know what he’s referring to,” Priebus said of McCain, a vocal critic of the president. “I mean-- I didn’t see his statement. But he would be wrong in regard to that statement and the White House and President Trump.”
Dickerson further questioned the White House representative on whether other congressional leaders have expressed concerns about how the executive branch is being run.
“Is it constant praise that you get from your allies on [Capitol] Hill?” the “Face the Nation” host wondered.
“Look, I think that what we hear from people on the Hill is the same thing I’m telling you -- is that the media’s obsessed with a lot of false, hollow stories without sourcing that we have to track down and deal with,” Priebus said in reply. When Dickerson later pointed out to Priebus that “in every answer, you’ve turned it back to the media,” the interview turned contentious. “I guess the question is: Is the strategy now to answer any question by just turning it back on the media and using a fight with the media as a way to try to control the storyline?” Dickerson asked.
“John, the last few questions you’ve asked make no sense,” Priebus said. “I mean, you’re talking about people that you’re not naming, and whether or not some things need to be improved, and what would you say to people that say some things. I mean, what things? What people? What are you referring to? Give me a specific question with a specific purpose-- accusation, and I’ll answer the question. But you’re asking me a vague question without any specifics, and you want me to give you a specific answer. It’s ridiculous.”
Trump’s animosity toward the press came to a head on Thursday during a freewheeling news conference, where he railed against journalists for covering his administration critically and dismissed questions about his ties to Russia and the rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. He also defended former national security adviser Michael Flynn, calling him “a wonderful man” who was treated “very, very unfairly by the media.” Flynn was asked to resign on Monday amid revelations he discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador and lied to Vice President Pence about the nature of those conversations.
Trump also said at the news conference that if Flynn hadn’t discussed sanctions, he would have instructed him to do so, though he claimed he had no part in directing the conversations.
Priebus echoed Trump’s position in the CBS interview, arguing that there is "nothing" inappropriate about a national security adviser discussing sanctions with a foreign diplomat, though Flynn's call with the Russian envoy came before Trump took office. "There's nothing wrong with having a conversation about sanctions,” Priebus said. “And there's nothing wrong about having a conversation about the fact that the Obama administration put further sanctions in place and expelled some folks out of the United States.”
“There's nothing wrong with that topic coming up in a conversation,” he said.
We are confident the media will disagree with everything Priebus said and the conflict between the "enemy press" and Trump will only grow from here.