Executives and anchors from the country’s five biggest television networks met with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower on Monday afternoon.
And they got an earful.
Trump vented about media coverage, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He was highly critical of CNN and other news organizations.
But while Trump showed disdain for the news media, he also answered questions; listened to the journalists’ arguments about the importance of access; and committed to making improvements.
A source in the room told CNNMoney that there was “real progress” made with regards to media access to Trump and his administration.
One specific topic was the importance of the “press pool,” a small group of journalists that traditionally travels with the president.
The hour-long meeting was off the record, meaning the participants agreed not to talk about the substance of the conversations.
But Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, who arranged the meeting, said afterward that it was “very cordial, candid and honest.”
While there was “no need to mend fences,” she said, “from my own perspective, it is great to hit the reset button, it was a long, hard-fought campaign.”
Some of the attendees were struck by Trump’s anti-media posture. During the meeting, Trump revived some of the specific arguments he made weeks before winning the presidency.
According to Politico, among Trump’s complaints, even as he asked for a “cordial” relationship, was that NBC had used unflattering pictures of him.
But one of the participants told CNNMoney that Trump also asked for a positive relationship between his White House and the media. The participant said that a New York Post account — which had a source describing it as Trump giving the assembled members of the media a “dressing down” like a “firing squad” — was overstated.
Conway herself has also criticized the Post report.
Notably, she declined to say when the president-elect would hold a news conference. “Soon” was the only answer.
Presidents-elect typically hold a news conference within days of being elected. Trump was elected almost two weeks ago and has not taken questions in that setting yet.
However, he has been interviewed on the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes,” and he answered a few shouted questions from reporters over the weekend. He will also be speaking with reporters from The New York Times on Tuesday.
Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. “and others are meeting with the President Elect tomorrow at the request of his team,” the Times said in a statement Monday afternoon. “There will be a small, off the record meeting first, followed by an on the record session with Times reporters and editorial columnists.”
President Obama and other government officials occasionally hold off the record sessions with reporters, anchors and other media bigwigs. Obama, for example, talked off the record with the reporters traveling with him on the way home from Peru on Sunday night.
By going off the record and giving up the right to quote the public official, the reporters gain candid insights. Both the journalists and the politicians can speak more bluntly.
Some top network anchors are traveling or on vacation this week, and thus were unable to attend Monday’s meeting. But many others were present.
NBC’s Chuck Todd and Lester Holt; CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett; CBS’s Norah O’Donnell, Charlie Rose, John Dickerson, and Gayle King; and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, David Muir and Martha Raddatz were some of the anchors seen entering Trump Tower shortly before 1 p.m.
Several executives from the network news divisions were also spotted on the way into Trump Tower, including ABC News president James Goldston; CNN president Jeff Zucker; Fox News co-presidents Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy; NBC News president Deborah Turness; MSNBC president Phil Griffin; and CBS News vice president Chris Isham.
There was much for the group to talk about. Trump has long-standing relationships with many in the TV news business — but he also waged an anti-media crusade during his campaign for president.
There are many looming questions about whether Trump will provide the same levels of press access that past presidents have permitted, like the traveling “press pool” and regular news conferences.
CNN’s Dylan Byers contributed reporting.