- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2018

Six-out-of-10 voters approve of President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland on Monday, says a Fox News poll — including 81 percent Republicans, 56 percent of 39 percent of Democrats. So Mr. Trump’s got that going for him. Sort of.

The press, however, has stretched coverage of this high-stakes encounter in all directions — gauging the chances of success, tossing critical barbs at the White House, and in some cases, making a dramatic public plea.

Helsingin Sanomat, a Helsinki-based newspaper and the largest in the Nordic region, has a message for both leaders when they sit down together. The news organization has placed 300 notices around the host city, advising “Welcome to the Land of Free Press,” in both English and Russian — on enormous electronic billboards in some cases.

“This is a statement on behalf of critical and high-quality journalism. As we welcome the presidents to the summit in Finland, we want to remind them of the importance of free press. The media shouldn’t be the lap dog of any president or regime,” says Kaius Niemi, senior editor-in-chief.

Meanwhile, multiple news organizations also wonder whether first lady Melania Trump will be a gracious presence after the aforementioned meeting, as she was during the G-20 summit in Germany last year. Mrs. Trump was seated next to Mr. Putin during a formal dinner, and was seen having a pleasant conversation which included plenty of smiles. The first lady speaks five languages and media speculation was rampant: Was she speaking German or Russian?

Some news coverage this time around is verging on extreme, however.

“President Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, and the liberal media were in full campaign mode as they pushed speculation the president was a Russian agent meeting with his handler. CNN’s Brian Stelter admitted as much during Sunday’s ‘Reliable Sources,’ saying, ‘Trump opponents will speculate that he’s really a Russian agent, having a meeting with his handler, betraying America.’ While he did say that, Stelter also declared that no one could trust the president’s account of the meeting and gave those conspiracy theories room to grow,” writes Nicholas Fondacaro, an analyst for Newsbusters.org, a conservative press watchdog.

“Stelter kicked off the program by casting doubt over whether or not the president was trustworthy enough for us to believe his account of the one-on-one meeting Putin. ‘No aides, no note-takers. So, we’ll never really know what is said because, really, can we trust either man? No. We can’t,’ he bitterly spat. The CNN host bemoaned about how long-gone were the days of presidents who spoke only in truth and commanded power. ‘But not now. Not anymore,’ he decried,” Mr. Fondacaro recounts in his analysis.

MATTIS CLEARS THE AIR

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. In recent days, the news media pushed a narrative that the Pentagon is on clean-up duty after President Trump’s recent NATO meetings. NBC News in particular offered a report quoting “Pentagon leadership” and “one diplomatic official” — suggesting that the top brass was reassuring one and all that all was well between America and its traditional allies. But wait. One member of the “Pentagon leadership” is unfamiliar with this.

“I just heard about this story that the Pentagon’s in damage control. That was fascinating. I love reading fiction. It was stimulating to read it,” Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis told curious reporters.

But he’s a fair guy, even when dealing with anonymously sourced reports that are less than complimentary.

“People are entitled to their own opinion, even if it’s not fact-based,” Mr. Mattis told the press gaggle.

THE PRESIDENT’S GOLF BAG

Even President Trump’s golf equipment warrants coverage.

“Spotted a POTUS golf bag being loaded onto AF1. Red, white and blue with presidential seal, and DONALD TRUMP in block letters. Gold tag attached reads DONALD TRUMP,” noted New York Times reporter Katie Rogers noted in the White House pool report on Sunday.

POTUS, of course, is president of the United States, AF1 is Air Force One. The simple description is in contrast to a ProPublica investigation released in March which broached the idea that Mr. Trump, or at least his commercial enterprise, was in the wrong in the golf department.

“The Trump Organization ordered golf course markers with the Presidential Seal. That may be illegal. The president’s company has ordered a set of presidential seal replicas for its golf course tee markers, raising more ethics questions,” the group said, noting that under federal law, the presidential seal use is permitted only for official government business.

“Ethics experts have long been on the lookout for signs that the Trump Organization would exploit the office of the presidency for commercial gain. Several said that using the presidential seal on the company’s golf courses would fall into this category,” wrote analyst Katherine Sullivan.

FOX NEWS HAS THE ‘GOOD GETS’

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has landed an exclusive interview with Vladimir Putin after his meeting with President TrumpMr. Putin’s first engagement with a Western journalist in over a year. In the industry, this is known as a “good get,” and it will air Monday.

“I will have the first and only interview that the Russian president will give to Western journalists. We’re going to sit down for a half-hour, no holds barred, no subjects off limits,” Mr. Wallace says. “I want to delve into Vladimir Putin and what he wants for his country.”

There are other “good gets,” though. Fox News prime time host Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson each will interview Mr. Trump following the meeting. Mr. Hannity’s interview will be presented at 9 p.m. EDT on Monday, Mr. Carlson’s interview will air at 8 p.m. EDT on Tuesday.

POLL DU JOUR

59 percent of U.S. voters approve of President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin; 81 percent of Republicans, 56 percent of independents and 39 percent of Democrats agree.

33 percent overall say Mr. Trump should not meet with Mr. Putin; 14 percent of Republicans, 25 percent of independents and 54 percent of Democrats agree.

53 percent overall say Mr. Trump has “not been tough enough” on Russia; 32 percent of Republicans, 47 percent of independents and 75 percent of Democrats agree.

35 percent overall say Mr. Trump’s way of dealing with Russia is “about right”; 57 percent of Republicans, 30 percent of independents and 14 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Fox News poll of 1,007 registered U.S. voters conducted July 9-11.

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