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 second being The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone:
HH: Joined now by Michael Calderone, senior media reporter of Huffington Post and a pal out on the campaign trail. Good morning, Michael, thank you for joining me.
MC: Good morning, Hugh, good to be here.
HH: Now Michael, last night, I started throwing together today’s show after I was on with Ari Melber last night on MSNBC, and he used a term which I think is wonderful. He said there’s a negativity vibe surrounding the President-Elect and the transition, and I reflected on that. First of all, do you agree with that assessment?
MC: Well, I mean, I don’t know if it’s just around the President. I mean, we just saw a campaign that was, especially the last several months, was overwhelmingly negative, I think, about both candidates. And so maybe some of that has extended into this campaign, I mean, extended into this transition period, too.
HH: Well, but specifically…
MC: What do you mean specifically?
HH: Yeah, specifically, let’s talk about the Vanity Fair tweet yesterday, the President takes on Vanity Fair, the President-Elect takes on Vanity Fair. At the same time, Keith Kellogg is named chief of staff of the NSC, Monica Crowley their spokesperson, the equivalent of Ben Rhodes, except she’s got a PhD and knows what’s she’s doing, and Larry Kudlow is tipped to head the Council on Economic Advisors, huge news, huge news. It gets buried. It’s nowhere, and everyone’s obsessing on a tweet. Does that suggest seriousness on the media’s part or a desire to deeply cripple the presidency before it begins?
MC: Well, I mean, I think the media needs to spend far less time covering Donald Trump’s tweets, which is something that I have been complaining about for some time. And you know, it’s the sort of obsessive and breathless coverage with everything he puts out there. But he’s the one still putting out there. He has 16 million Twitter followers. He knows everyone in the media’s going to see what he does. You know, he could be tweeting more about specifically what his plans are for national security. He could be calling attention to Aleppo. He could be doing a lot of things with his Twitter feed. But if he is attacking Vanity Fair, it’s not surprising journalists are going to pick up on it. Yeah, maybe there is a disproportionate amount of attention, but he’s the president of the United States making statements about things, and I’m not surprised they’re going to get attention, even if it may drown out some way more important and you know, way more consequential stories.
HH: Yeah, I don’t really think he can tweet about Aleppo. Until you’re the president, there’s only one president, and I don’t think we ought to be encouraging the President-Elect or criticizing the President-Elect for not commenting on the massacre of Aleppo. And by the way, I think Aleppo will accompany Obama as the corn laws accompanied Robert Peel in history. They are absolutely connected, the Irish famine and Peel, and Aleppo and President Obama. Let me give you an example, though, Michael Calderone, the family. Now I realize it’s complicated. I believe, I’ve always said Ivanka’s going to have a key role here, and Don, Jr., and I don’t know Eric and Don, Jr. at all, but I’ve had Ivanka on the show, and occasionally communicate with her. But Milton Eisenhower and Ike, Bobby Kennedy and JFK, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, even George W. Bush before he was governor of Texas was his father’s enforcer and fired Sununu. Family participation in policy is not new. And I’m not talking about literacy projects or fitness projects like Mrs. Obama as first lady has done a great job. I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of politics. Why are we treating it like it’s new?
MC: Well, I think it is new in some sense. You are correct. There have been family members who have been involved in policy, as well as first ladies who took key roles in policy issues. You know, but the thing is here, I mean, look at the texts from this week. You had some of the biggest titans of the tech industry, and you had all three of Donald Trump’s children, as well as Jared Kushner there. I think the problem is we still don’t have real clarity as to what their roles are. Donald Trump proposed to have a press conference yesterday. It was said he was going to address some of the issues about his business, and he has said some things, saying that you know, his two sons would take the business, whereas we expect Jared and Ivanka to play more of a role in the administration. But if they’re all sitting around the table and we don’t have clarity to what their roles are, or if two of them are supposed to be primarily focused on the business, I mean, I think that is a legitimate question. You know, Donald Trump has gone, I think, 36, 37 days since the election without a press conference. I mean, that’s a record at least for the last several decades. And the ones, the press conference that he himself said he was going to answer a lot of these questions about potential business conflicts, he postponed and is doing a victory tour for four days. So I think there is frustration around…
HH: Well, I understand that.
MC: I think there is frustration in the press that maybe they’re focusing on either questions of nepotism or conflict more than some other issues, and you could argue that. I think that may be fair. But these questions are just not getting answered, and that’s why I think they’re still out there.
HH: And I think they’re very complicated. That’s what I actually think it is, and Don McGahn needs more time to figure this out. But when the context is given, Bobby Kennedy becomes his attorney general. I don’t know how early in the transition that happened. But if they have a vast fortune, the Kennedy fortune, and so the brother names the brother to be the chief law enforcement officer, we will never get close to that level of sustained, involved conflict of interest. Never. But let me ask you about the White House press room. We’ve got less than a minute.
HH: Reince comes on and says a couple of things about it. Why the hell shouldn’t Axios be in the front row? Why shouldn’t Breitbart be there? Why should the guild run the White House Press Corps? I’m against guilds running anything.
MC: I’m not, I’m not, I’m the last guy who’s going to argue about we should have less inclusion in the White House briefing room. You know, I think it’s a good idea to question the pecking order in the briefing room. You know, at the Huffington Post, we have a very large audience in the world, and we do not get assigned seats.
HH: Yes, you do.
MC: Breitbart doesn’t have an assigned seat. A lot of huge digital media companies don’t have seats there. It’s a small room. There are 49 seats, so you can understand how it’s difficult. But I’m all for thinking about these things.
MC: And the Correspondents Association, I hope, will do it.
HH: I hope they do. It’s a guild, and they hate giving up the fact that the old dinosaurs of the New York Times and others are not the players that the new digital empires are. Thank you, Michael Calderone, always great to talk with you.
End of interview.