Though an explosive interview with President Donald Trump conducted by the New York Times published Wednesday evening resulted in breaking news bulletins across the media and provided an inside look at Trump's state of mind regarding current events, including healthcare, some in the journalistic community are expressing disappointment at the lack of substantive questions asked of the president—adding to growing concern about how the press engages with the current White House.
Allowed to ramble on in vague terms about healthcare policies he appears to know little about, the three interviewers were faulted for not holding Trump to account regarding specific aspects of the various proposals or the ongoing failure of Republicans in the Senate.
The president spoke about his frustration by the recent media coverage of the recent healthcare legislation which failed after the Republican leadership was unable to secure enough votes from the party, comparing the attempt to pass Trumpcare in the first six months of his term, to other attempts to pass healthcare reform.
He also acknowledged that taking away health insurance from Americans after the Affordable Care Act allowed 20 million more people to obtain coverage, was a difficult task. But his explanation of the details of healthcare policy appeared garbled, and based on excerpts of the interview, the reporters did not ask for clarification.
TRUMP: So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you're 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan. Here’s something where you walk up and say, "I want my insurance." It's a very tough deal, but it is something that we’re doing a good job of.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, NYT: Am I wrong in thinking—I've talked to you a bunch of times about this over the last couple years, but you are generally of the view that people should have health care, right? I mean, I think that you come at it from the view of...
TRUMP: Yes, yes.
The published transcript of the interview shows no questions reflecting the disconnect between Trump's supposed view that Americans should have health care, and his party's healthcare proposals, the latest of which would take away coverage from 32 million people over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Dan Froomkin of The Intercept expressed dismay at the lack of pointed questions in the transcript.
Did anyone else find the NYT Trump interview shockingly obsequious? Many opportunities to call bullshit or correct whiffed. pic.twitter.com/0XxKdfskQj— Dan Froomkin (@froomkin) July 20, 2017
I recognize the value in the “good cop” interview. But one of the three NYTers should have been a “bad cop”. Like Mike Allen/Dana Milbank.— Dan Froomkin (@froomkin) July 20, 2017
Comedian and New York Times columnist John Hodgman also offered a critique, noting that allowing the president to speak at length is not without value -- but that Trump should also be forced to go on the record about policy specifics.
3rd: ...I also would have appreciated one or two substantive policy questions, especially re the mechanics of heal insurance and the bill.— John Hodgman (@hodgman) July 20, 2017
The Times interview followed weeks of reporting by media outlets about the Republican healthcare plan, during which Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway insisted on ABC's "This Week" that Medicaid cuts were not part of the legislation, and Vice President Mike Pence declared that the bill would "strengthen and secure" Medicaid. Those claims came despite the nonpartisan CBO's statement that the government would spend 772 billion fewer dollars on the program over the next decade under the law.
At Media Matters, Matt Gertz noted that the press may not be able to afford many more squandered chances to directly question the president on his plans for the country.
The failure of the Times to ask the president tough questions about his health care position is all the more important because there have been vanishingly few opportunities for reporters to do so. The president has largely retreated from press scrutiny in recent months. Trump has not held a full press conference since February; he broke with tradition and did not hold one following the G20 meeting earlier this month. His only on-camera interviews in the last two months have been with the pro-Trump propagandists at Fox and, most recently, with The 700 Club’s Pat Robertson, who has said the president’s critics serve Satan.
When mainstream journalists have had the opportunity to ask Trump to discuss the legislation, they’ve largely dropped the ball.
Meanwhile, at Wednesday's White House Press Briefing, independent journalist Ksenija Pavlovic of Pavlovic Today disobeyed the administration's recent regulations for the briefings. Press conferences have been held off-camera since June 29, and recordings of any kind have been prohibited. The White House Press Corps has generally observed the new rules, but Pavlovic surreptitiously recorded the audio of the briefing and posted it to her Twitter account, to the acclaim of several users.
Thank you for your courage. The White House does not belong to Trump, or any president. It is the people's house. Sanders, et al work for us— S (@Yes_Its_Me_S) July 19, 2017
The Times' interview was released as more than 150 arrests were reported on Capitol Hill, as anti-Trumpcare protests continued. As demonstrators attempt to make their voices heard by their elected representatives, those with rare access to the president and his administration are facing criticism for what some call missed opportunities.
While protesters are being arrested on the healthcare bill, Press Conference reporters are afraid to raise their hands or challenge Spicer— ALC Not My President (@Arthur59611540) July 17, 2017