- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2017

For all of President Trump’s celebrated battles with the media, he is also allowing the press more extended access to some of his White House meetings than previous presidents did.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump held a “listening session” at the White House with county sheriffs from across the nation. The press pool was escorted shortly before 9:30 a.m. for the start of the meeting in the Roosevelt Room, where they remained for the better part of an hour.

In the previous administration, President Obama usually would make a few brief remarks for the benefit of the press at such events, or simply pose for the cameras in a “photo op.” White House aides would typically shoo journalists out of such meetings after a few minutes at most, and access sometimes would last mere seconds.

On this occasion, Mr. Trump allowed journalists to stay in the meeting as he went around the table and heard comments from each of the participants for 45 minutes or more.

After that, he invited the press into the Oval Office to continue the session with the sheriffs — but not before engaging in a favorite pastime of bashing the media.

Asked by a reporter about his claim that the media are underreporting terrorist attacks, Mr. Trump replied, “I always preface it by saying, ‘Not everybody,’ but there’s tremendous dishonesty, pure outright dishonesty from the media.”

Then he told everyone in attendance, press included, “Let’s go into the White House, Oval Office.”

White House aides said Mr. Trump is approaching his relationship with the media as president the same way he did as a candidate: unafraid and accessible.

“He was the most accessible candidate, and now president, I think we’ve ever had,” said deputy White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. “He wants the story reported fairly and accurately and in context. He’s never been someone who’s afraid of talking to the press.”

Mr. Trump also hinted at another reason he allowed the press to stay so long in his meeting with the sheriffs.

“The sheriffs are good people,” Mr. Trump told them. “You don’t get the coverage you deserve from the press.”

Mr. Trump is also holding meetings that are closed to the press, as did Mr. Obama. An Oval Office meeting Tuesday afternoon with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was closed.

Mr. Trump is also holding brief “photo ops” like other presidents. A scheduled “photo op” of Mr. Trump’s meeting Tuesday afternoon with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, was abruptly canceled by the White House, as was a scheduled photo op of a meeting on veterans affairs.

But some longtime White House journalists privately are expressing surprise at Mr. Trump’s willingness to allow the media’s presence in certain White House meetings for long periods.

As he kicked off Black History Month last week, the president opened his meeting with black leaders. Reporters stayed in the room for about 20 minutes while participants conversed with him.

The meetings in which Mr. Trump has granted such generous media access have been largely uncontroversial. The sessions with sheriffs and black leaders each contained healthy doses of thanks and praise from the participants for Mr. Trump’s leadership.

Despite the unusual degree of early access for journalists, there is no escaping that Mr. Trump and his top advisers entered the White House as one of the most combative teams in memory when it comes to press relations.

Almost daily, Mr. Trump portrays journalists as “dishonest” or expresses displeasure on Twitter about certain coverage, most notably in The New York Times or on CNN.

“I’m reported on possibly more than anybody in the world,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday. “I understand the total dishonesty of the media better than anybody, and I let people know it. I don’t mind a bad story if it’s true. But I don’t like bad stories, stories that should be a positive story when they make them totally negative.”

The administration is showing a deep bench when it comes to pushing back against the media.

Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly on Tuesday took issue with a Jan. 28 Washington Post article that portrayed a high level of White House control over his efforts to implement the president’s executive order on extreme vetting of foreigners.

“Every paragraph, every sentence, every word, every space, every comma, every period was wrong,” Mr. Kelly told lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “It was a fantasy story.”

The administration’s battle with CNN has been center stage ever since Mr. Trump called the network “fake news” shortly before his inauguration. He was angry about a report saying a Russian dossier about him was circulating.

Top-level White House aides have been noticeably absent from CNN programs. Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway did appear on the network with host Jake Tapper on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after she huddled with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer.

On the program, Mr. Tapper asked her, “Is CNN fake news?”

“I don’t think CNN is fake news,” she said. “There are some reports everywhere — in print, on TV, on radio, in conversation — that are not well-researched.”

Mr. Trump and his aides also accused the media this week of ignoring or underreporting Islamist terrorist attacks.

Mr. Spicer said the Trump administration released a list of 78 terrorist attacks that were underreported to show that “the Earth is a very dangerous place right now.”

The White House issued the list of attacks by Muslim terrorists from 2014 to 2016 after Mr. Trump told U.S. troops Monday that the media had not sufficiently covered some of them, including shootings at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and at a government office in San Bernardino, California.

Both of those attacks received heavy news coverage, and others on the list with fewer casualties were not covered as widely.

“We were getting questions about the president’s remarks and wanted to be very clear there were a lot of examples between 2014 and 2016 that have occurred,” Mr. Spicer said. “It is becoming too often that we are seeing these attacks not get the spectacular attention they deserve. I think it undermines the understanding of the threat that we face around this country.”

The president’s spokesman said the administration wants “to remind people that the Earth is a very dangerous place these days, that [the Islamic State] is trying to do us harm, and that the president’s commitment is to keep the country safe.”

“I think part of this is to make sure the American people are reminded how prevalent some of these attacks are and how much time and attention they have or have not gotten, but more importantly to make sure that they understand the unwavering commitment that the president has, and the actions he will take, to keep the country safe,” he said.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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