Sorry, NY Times haters: You don't have to grill Trump to interview him

Sometimes it's better to let Trump be Trump

Published December 29, 2017 1:25PM (EST)

 (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

At various points along Donald Trump's rise from game show host to president, his critics have tried to argue that none of it would have happened had it not been for some particular thing. The object of blame is the often news media. There's something to the idea, given that Trump's rallies were usually the only ones that were live-streamed on cable news, particularly during the Republican primaries.

How journalists should cover Trump in-person has been an ongoing debate in media circles, especially since he was inaugurated.

Some Trump detractors have tried to extend the argument to print journalist interviews with Trump which is where it falls apart. That's because the president's critics have failed to realize that print journalists who speak to Trump are not doing the same thing as television interviewers.

This issue has surfaced several times during Trump's presidency and did so again after New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt conducted an interview yesterday with Trump in his Mar-a-Lago golf resort.

Instead of keeping the session secret and disbursing Trump's statements into a slew of articles, the Times decided to publish a transcript of the entire session minus some off-the-record portions. The paper and Schmidt were soon assailed by critics who claimed that the Times had let Trump off the hook.

Schmidt's critics have made similar arguments against his Times colleague Maggie Haberman for supposedly "letting Trump off the hook" by not making every conversation with him descend into a shouting match. This argument misses the mark, however, because it misunderstands that there is more than one way to do an interview. They also fail to distinguish that interviews for print have traditionally been more about exposition rather than interrogation.

Schmidt's critics may not like that he refused to start screaming at Trump but they ought to realize that these free-form interviews do a much better job of revealing the president's thoughts than about anything else, especially since he holds almost no press conferences. Sure, one can pull up the Trump's Twitter feed for similar remarks but generally his posts there are responses to Fox News stories more than the important policy details that Schmidt was able to get the president to discuss.

On the one hand, Schmidt's detractors want Trump to talk about his policy views more but on the other hand, they want the Times reporter to get in the president's face. Haberman summed up the contradiction perfectly (minus a typo):

By Matthew Sheffield

Matthew Sheffield is a national correspondent for The Young Turks. He is also the host of the podcast "Theory of Change." You can follow him on Twitter.

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Donald Trump Journalism Maggie Haberman Media Criticism Media Business Michael Schmidt New York Times