On MSNBC last night, Ari Melber suggested in a segment in which I was a guest that there was a “negativity vibe” surrounding the transition. I am exploring that proposition with three media reporters this AM, the first being CNN’s Brian Stelter:
HH: So pleased to welcome Brian Stelter, who is the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, the networks’ senior media correspondent. Before he joined Reliable Sources, of course, he was the media writer for the New York Times. Brian, welcome, thank you for joining me this morning. You’re a busy man, because media is as much a part of the story as the President-Elect is right now. Wouldn’t you agree?
BS: The President-Elect’s putting on an incredible show. Yeah, absolutely. We have our first reality TV president. So I’m happy to be covering it.
HH: And it’s going to not get slower, not going to get slower. Last night, I was on with Ari Melber, and Ari coined the term “the negativity vibe” surrounding President Trump. And I want to, President-Elect Trump, and I wanted to explore that with you. Is the obsession with Trump and the Russia hack and the family conflicts and the tweets obscuring real news? For example, yesterday, it was tipped that Keith Kellogg will become, General Kellogg, the chief of staff of the NSC, Monica Crowley, his spokesperson, Larry Kudlow, the Council of Economic Advisors. Nowhere covered, because we were talking about a Vanity Fair tweet.
BS: Oh, come on. It’s been covered plenty. I’ve heard all about Monica Crowley and Larry Kudlow and others, and you have, too.
HH: Well, I had to dig it out. But if you watched just cable, if you just watched cable, do you think it would have been covered?
BS: Well, first of all, it was covered, and I would say you’ve got to have a balanced diet. You’ve got to read and watch and listen. And you’ve got to seek out a bunch of different sources. I don’t think his tweets, though, obscure real news. I think his tweets are real news. I think everything the President’s saying is real news.
HH: I think that for example, on a scale of gravity, the fall of Aleppo and the 400,000 dead, which I think is going to be associated with President Obama in the way that Robert Peel is associated with the corn laws not getting repealed in time to prevent the Irish famine. That is huge news with worldwide repercussions and dead bodies. The Vanity Fair tweet just doesn’t seem to me to be there.
BS: Well, that’s a difference of proportion, of course. I would say you’ve got to watch more CNN and CBS and other outlets that, you know, NBC’s had great reporting from Syria as well. There’s a lot of great reporting happening, but people do have to seek it out more now than they used to, and that’s a big change from 20 years ago. You have to seek out that kind of reporting if you want it.
HH: How about the counter story to the Russian hack? On the Russian hack, Devin Nunes, who’s the chair of the House Intel Committee, asked the CIA to come and brief, and the CIA refused to come and brief on the Russian hack. That got some coverage. I mean, I dug it up, but not, I’ll bet you for every time the Russian hack story is covered, people don’t say oh, and by the way, the agencies, read Ben Rhodes at the White House…
HH: …are not owning the story. I think it’s scandalous they didn’t show up.
BS: I mean, that is a layer to the story that has not gotten as much play. You’re absolutely right about that. I would say there’s more interest in why President-Elect Trump tweets about Vanity Fair than why he doesn’t tweet about Russia in the way that would be anticipated, right? That is an easy and important story that has the people keep coming back to?
HH: Okay, one more example of “the negativity vibe…”
BS: “Negativity vibe.”
HH: That’s Ari’s term, and I love it.
BS: Wait, if that’s true, doesn’t it haunt every single president ever?
HH: It doesn’t haunt transitions. I actually was the acting director of OPM for the transition in ’88, and that was like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre transition. People were being thrown from windows, because it was Republican on Republican violence, and so no one reported it, because it was GOP on GOP. This is kind of “no honeymoon” moment. There is no honeymoon for Trump, and let me illustrate. The kids and their relationship to the President-Elect is a real story. It’s interesting to me. I’ve been saying for years that Ivanka will be a key player. On the other hand, Milton Eisenhower advised Ike deeply, Bobby Kennedy was JFK’s hatchet man and attorney general. Hillary ran health care for Bill, and W. Bush, before he was even governor of Texas, was George H.W. Bush’s hit man and got rid of Sununu. So is it really that new that the adult children or close family members of presidents are involved in actual policy and politics, Brian Stelter?
BS: We have never seen anything like this. Yes, there’s other examples, and if you’re advocating for more historians on television, I’m with you. We should have more historians on television to put perspective. But we all know we’ve never seen anything like this before, right?
HH: I’m not going to go, I think Bobby and Jack are the defining close relationship in politics between siblings. This is children…
BS: Who own, who were involved in a billionaire’s far-flung business holdings? No way.
HH: Oh, you walked into the trap. Go look at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The Kennedy building, the Kennedy assets are at least as significant in terms of proportionality from 1960 to 2016.
BS: We could play this game all day. We’ve never seen anything like this.
HH: I disagree with that. The Kennedy’s…
BS: Did the Kennedy’s have holdings in Azerbaijan and Turkey and all these other countries?
HH: The Kennedy empire, which has never fully been explored, and the trust never unwound, did have enormous influence on the Kennedy family, but they were the Kennedy’s, Brian, so nobody touched it. And of course, this is an old Nixon saw, but let me go back to the other thing that happened this week. Reince Priebus came on this show…
HH: And we talked for 20 minutes.
BS: The story of the week on this show.
HH: I know, but it was on, we talked about tax policy, Supreme Court nominations, putting the convention back in Cleveland, lots of stuff. At the end, I throw off kind of a joke question about, you know, I wanted a seat in the front row, and Reince goes on a little news making, saying well, we’re going to shake things up.
HH: And the media melted down. Was that an overreaction?
BS: The media melted down? How did the media melt down?
HH: Oh, probably 25 stories on oh, my God, the White House Press Association, we wish to inform Mr. Priebus that this and that, and blah, blah, blah, blah, instead of just saying oh, this is interesting, let’s see what happens. I mean, there is entitlement deeply built into the old media. Why shouldn’t BuzzFeed and Breitbart and Axios get the same kind of treatment as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal?
BS: Well, I would say BuzzFeed and Breitbart do have briefing room access. They’re there a lot of times. Josh Earnest calls on BuzzFeed and Breitbart. But they are not the major networks, and maybe someday they will be, but today, they’re not the major networks. You know, talking about assigned seating, though, is kind of silly. Priebus was wrong, and he should acknowledge he was wrong about what he said on your show that it was only an Obama administration development, that it’s been this way for decades. So I think some of the reaction was just surprise that he was so wrong.
HH: So tell me what you think. We have a new player in town – Axios – Mike Allen, Jim Vandehei. They put together a great set of people.
BS: I’m Googling it right now, yeah.
HH: Okay, so should Mike Allen, given that he runs the town in the morning, it’s sort of like you is to media, he is to the town in the morning. Should he be given a front row seat? And they’re brand new. They haven’t existed for, you know, a week.
BS: First, I don’t even think he’s requested a front row seat. The seating assignments are arranged by the White House Correspondents Association, not by the White House. So it’s by a jury of your peers, so to speak, that help set up who gets in the front row, and there’s good reasons why the networks are in the front row for television purposes, because that’s where the cameras are pointing at. You know, but it’s complicated. And it’s a separate issue from the White House presiding. Yeah, let’s see what work the new start up does.
HH: Okay, last question and you’ve got to go. The White House Press Association, I am not now nor have I ever been a member. I do not believe it is a good thing for the guild to run the room. I think that’s actually a nightmare. It should be a lottery for anyone who has any kind of credential of, say, 5,000 followers on Twitter to come in. What about the guild running the room, Brian?
BS: You think people with 5,000 followers on Twitter…
HH: Well, blue check mark. Maybe that’s too low. Maybe that’s too low. Maybe it should be a hundred thousand. But I do not like the guild running things. Last question, do you think the guild ought to be broken up?
BS: I have not thought through that question enough. I will ponder it, because I’ve got the head of the association on Reliable Sources this weekend, so that’s a great tease for me. I thank you for that.
HH: Oh, well, we’ll be watching Reliable Sources. It’s a guild.
BS: You know, there are a lot of journalists from a lot of even small news organizations that do have access to the White House, but they’re gathering news there, right? They’re not just people who are writing opinion columns. They’re there who are there doing reporting, and we need more of that. You know, in this transition, we need more of that reporting, and you know, I think that’s what’s missing sometimes, and why you and I both get frustrated at what’s not being covered, it’s because we need more boots on the ground writing these stories.
HH: We do, and we need to look at Mattis’ career. We’ve got to find out who’s going to be around Kelly. These are big deals, and we’re locked onto tweets about restaurants in Trump Tower.
BS: Well, we do get too distracted by Twitter. I agree.
HH: Brian Stelter, we agree on much. Thank you for joining me. Come back early and often, and break up the guild.
End of interview.