Wall Street Journal reporter Beth Reinhard has seen two distinct sides of President-elect Donald Trump.
Covering him during the campaign, she spent many days barricaded behind metal bars to keep her and other reporters clear of Trump supporters’ vehement disdain of the media. But on a handful of occasions, Reinhard conducted one-on-one interviews with an “affable, cordial and not belligerent” Trump.
On Sunday, she shared her insights with 80 members of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church. Here are five things she learned:
The news media challenged Trump. He challenged them back.
“The media was challenged on its objectivity in ways it’s never been challenged before,” Reinhard said.
The relationship between politicians and the press has always been based on fact-checking. But what changed during this election, Reinhard says, was Trump’s tendency to say one thing, and deny it moments later.
This led some media outlets to be blunt when reporting Trump’s statements that they viewed as misinformation, going as far as to say, “This is just a lie,” Reinhard said.
“You saw newspapers act much more boldly than in previous campaigns,” she added.
There is hostility in numbers.
Trump often referred to the attendance at his rallies when quantifying his support.
“It was demoralizing to walk into his rallies and be booed and heckled. People shouted profanities at us, and told us to go home,” Reinhard said. “I had colleagues that were spit on.”
But, Reinhard noted, many individual supporters she interviewed were friendly and open to explaining why they supported Trump.
Nevertheless “it was disappointing to see such hostility and such distrust of the media. I think we have a very important role to play in the campaign, and Trump’s ability to discredit the media then allowed him to discredit a lot of our work.”
Supporters didn’t believe the accusations against Trump.
Reinhard, who covered presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, said what stunned her most came from interviews with supporters about Trump’s multitude of scandals.
“We’d ask his supporters about a story” such as the “Access Hollywood” tapes or Trump’s alleged foreign business ties, “and they’d say ‘I don’t believe it,’” she said. “He could have done anything. And he pretty much did.”
Press access to Trump and his campaign staff was limited.
There was an “unprecedented lack of interaction between the press and Trump and his inner circle,” Reinhard said.
She explained that while candidates are generally closed-off for the press, their staffs are usually more accessible. Staffers for the Mitt Romney campaign four years ago went out for drinks with reporters, Reinhard said.
Trump’s staff, however, was much more difficult to reach. And the revolving door of staffers made forming relationships much more difficult, Reinhard said.
Twitter might be the new White House press corps.
Asked about the role of the press as a conduit between the president and the American people, Reinhard said it would “absolutely” be challenging to maintain that tradition.
“We already see him going around the press,” she said.
Reinhard referred to Trump’s quick succession of tweets rebuking the cast of the Broadway show “Hamilton” for using the closing moments of a Friday performance to send a personal, and critical, message to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in the audience.
“We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir,” cast member Brandon Dixon said in a prepared statement. “But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”
“The Theater must always be a safe and special place,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”
“He will continue to do that without the filter — the word he would use — of the press,” Reinhard said.
She added that Trump’s blacklisting of news organizations he felt were unfair to him is something “we’ve never seen that before in a campaign. I hope we’re not going to see that in the White House.”