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Meet the Press

Meet The Press 01-01-17

1/1/17

NBC News - Meet The Press

Nicolle Wallace, Joe Lockhart, Ari Fleischer, David Folkenflik, Hal Boedeker, Gabe Sherman, Claire Atkinson, Dean Baquet, Gerard Baker

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet The Press was Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good first Sunday morning of 2017 and a happy new year to everybody on this special Meet The Press broadcast. We're going to look at the difficult and sometimes mutually beneficial, but often contentious relationship between Donald Trump and the media. Mr. Trump of course has made no secret of his contempt for those of us who report the news and cover his campaign. Along with promising to build a wall along the U.S./Mexican border, press bashing was the surest route to an applause line on the Trump campaign trail.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

The media isn't just against me. They're against all of you. That's really what they're against. They're not against me. They're against what we represent.

Among the world's most dishonest people.

The one thing we have done, we have exposed the credibility of the press. They have the lowest credibility.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Reliance on free publicity and the easy access he had to TV news shows, including this one, it's worth remembering the joke someone cracked during the campaign. Donald Trump complaining about the media is like an oil man complaining about the smell of crude. So this morning, we're going to take a close look at this love/hate relationship between Donald Trump and the press. We'll talk to the editors of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to a group of top media critics from around the country. But I'm going to start with three people whose job it has been to not just work for a president and deal with him every day of the week, but also deal with the press and the intersection between the presidency and the media.

Joe Lockhart, who was President Bill Clinton's press secretary in the second term. Nicolle Wallace, the communications chief for President George W. Bush in his second term. And Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's very first press secretary. I sat down with the three of them and asked them about the art of working with a president and what they think we can expect from a President Trump.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let's dive right in. Nicolle Wallace, Ari Fleischer, Joe Lockhart, so all of you have had to move from a campaign to the White House. How hard is it to transition from being a campaign sort of advocate to suddenly the spokesperson for the United States of America?

ARI FLEISCHER:

It's a very different reflex. And there's three phases to it, frankly. When you're in the primary, you're talking to your party's voters. And in the general election, you're talking to the nation's voters. When you're at the White House, you're talking to the world. And it's a very different need for how to communicate what to say, how to be nonpartisan at the appropriate times, and finally, you have to know a lot of policy. Because the job is spin, it is politics, but there's a lot of policy. And you better learn it fast.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess I would say, how hard is it to kick the partisan thing at the beginning of this? When you go in, when you transition, how hard is that?

NICOLLE WALLACE:

Well, I mean, we worked for someone whose top priority after winning election was really bringing the country together. The first time he ran as a uniter. And he came into the office after the recount, which was excruciating for the country. And he was aware of that. So he didn't have an urge to continue campaigning after he'd won. And reelection was even more so we were a country engaged in two wars with uneven trajectories at the time of his second inauguration. So there was no resistance on his part to sort of refocusing the country's attention on governing.

JOE LOCKHART:

I think it's an exercise in as a candidate you're responsible for nothing. All problems were made by someone else. All solutions are magically doable and, you know, you can implement that--

CHUCK TODD:

Because you just say it.

JOE LOCKHART:

Yes, because you just say it. And all candidates know that. And then the transition period, I think, is sort of delaying taking responsibility. Everybody comes in and their first instinct is every problem was the last guy's fault. But what you wake up one day (and sometimes it's in January, sometimes it's in February, sometimes it's later) and you realize, "Nobody's blaming the last guy anymore." And then it gets to the policy. And it gets to the fact that this is much more important, the stakes are higher, the words you use, the way you say it, where the comma is matters around the world. And it's a much more difficult job.

ARI FLEISCHER:

And you'll appreciate this, but my boss's advice to me, President Bush instructed me, "Never look backwards. No matter what happened before, it doesn't matter. It's up to us to lead. So no blaming, no looking back."

And it's an instinct that you have in the campaign. "Blame everything on the other guy." Now it doesn't matter, because it's up to you deliver.

NICOLLE WALLACE:

So you got different advice than I got. I walked in--

ARI FLEISCHER:

He said to blame him?

NICOLLE WALLACE:

No, no -- but I walked into the Oval Office between the reelect and becoming White House communications director. And he said, "Are you ready for the big league? This is the stuff that really matters." I think Presidents realize what you said, that what happens in the campaign is, you know, when it's over, poof, it vanishes. But what happens when you're President, it's permanent.

CHUCK TODD:

This is a unique challenge for the Trump communications team in this White House. Because there is already an antagonistic or feel that there's an antagonistic relationship between the press corp and the incoming president. Because the incoming president wants to have this--

JOE LOCKHART:

I think that there's always antagonism. And there's always particularly with the president, there's no president that ever woke up in the morning and called their press secretary and said, "You're doing a great job. I love the way I'm being covered. Everything's fair. And, you know, even the criticism is helping me grow as a president." Never happened--

CHUCK TODD:

Never happened?

JOE LOCKHART:

Never happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:

I'm shocked.

JOE LOCKHART:

But I think there's real differences this time to-- you know, we're on opposite sides of the parties. But I think our transitions were really similar, because we share a couple of things. We shared the idea that the press, you know, President relationship was mutually beneficial. The reason that people sit down in that briefing room every day is because both sides get something out of it. I don't think that's the case coming in here. So I think that will-- the second is while we might use extreme spin in some cases, traditionally for the last 50 years, we've operated on the same basic fact set. So, you know, Ari and Nicolle will look at the facts. I'll look at them. And we'll have a great argument about who was right and who was wrong. We're really in a place where (and we haven't seen this, I think, since the '60s with Nixon) where they use their own, they create their own facts. It's, you know, somewhat Orwellian, which, you know, you redefine the past, which means you can define the present and the future. And that's going to be very difficult for both sides to come to grips with.

ARI FLEISCHER:

I think there's a different trend going on. And it's two parts to it. The first is there's a double-barreled hostility. This press corps can't stand Donald Trump. And Donald Trump is happy to return the favor. And he uses it to his advantage. He can use it to his advantage, because as the Gallup poll recently indicated, confidence in the press to report the news accurately and fairly has never been lower. And so the press has made itself vulnerable, because it lost the trust of their readers and their viewers -- and Trump has widely taken advantage of it.

CHUCK TODD:

But is this on the press--

ARI FLEISCHER:

I absolutely--

CHUCK TODD:

No, I understand that. But why isn't there any responsibility on the partisans?

ARI FLEISCHER:

I didn't say there wasn't. I pointed out--

CHUCK TODD:

I feel like partisans have done more--

ARI FLEISCHER:

--accurately about the Gallup poll, which--

CHUCK TODD:

No doubt.

ARI FLEISCHER:

-- pressure the media still has to grapple with.

CHUCK TODD:

Should it matter to the partisan actors, Democratic and Republican actors in here, that they have helped delegitimize--

NICOLLE WALLACE:

I think we're staring at trees and missing the forest. We've just elected a man who bullies female reporters at his rally as an applause line. We have just elected a man who started a hot war with a female anchor instead of intending a debate she moderated. We are in a new place. And I don't think it's good. And I don't think it has any parallels to the past. And I don't think Trump needs the press. But I think he wants them like an addict craves their drugs.

ARI FLEISCHER:

And the press corps is also one of the least -- one of the most reluctant institutions to change, while technology's changed, everything's changing in the White House, press corps especially is still largely dominated and defined by the habits of people viewing in the '90s. And it hasn't changed much.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let's talk about this. Let's make some changes here. You guys could make changes. I've got my own ideas. And I'll wait till you guys talk. But what are some changes in the relationship between the White House press corps and some traditions that you think deserve-- there's been some talk of upending some of them. What ones would you like to make? I'll start with you, Nicolle.

NICOLLE WALLACE:

Well, I mean, I'm most intrigued by the notion that Trump doesn't think he needs or wants to have a protective pool. The protective pool exists so that on days like 9/11 a president can speak not just to his press or to this country but to the world. So I think changing his mind about the need for a protective pool and then maybe getting the press to be a little more inventive and modern in what that protective pool is made up of would be one of them.

JOE LOCKHART:

I'd make a suggestion for the press. You don't need to follow the president around and, not in the protective way, you don't need to put every word he says on TV and, you know, have a story every day about what he said yesterday. It's easy to find that. All you have to do is put on Twitter or Facebook Live. It is all there. If more resources were put into not just what was said today, but what's actually really happening. I think it'd be a much better service to the public.

ARI FLEISCHER:

I'd make two changes. One is I'd take the briefing off of live TV and embargo it. Make it a much more serious briefing, rather than a TV show where both sides are posturing. And the second is I would democratize the room. There are 750 reporters credentialed to cover the White House with 49 assigned seats. Change the room makeup. On Mondays, let it be the traditional White House press corps. On Tuesday, let it be business journalists. On Wednesday, let it be foreign journalists.

Thursday, I'd love to put Breitbart and Think Progress next to each other in the briefing room and let them ask questions. And not totally be social media day. And then on Friday, you could go back to the White House press corps if you wanted. Move the room around, and then you'll get a lot less gotcha and a lot more substantive questions.

CHUCK TODD:

How about no televised briefing? And I say this-- I was the unpopular guy among my TV colleagues. I believe the televised briefing destroyed the White House briefing.

NICOLLE WALLACE:

So does Mike McCurry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:

Right--

NICOLLE WALLACE:

So does Mike. Mike has said--

JOE LOCKHART:

So does everybody who's involved. But the reality--

CHUCK TODD:

I miss the gaggle. You get more information out of you, Ari, at the gaggle. You would speak--

ARI FLEISCHER:

But that's when you should give that to the briefing.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, and you Nicolle, and you Joe.

ARI FLEISCHER:

That's why I would take the briefing off of live TV. I would keep it so they can use clips and put it on the news. And also, after September 11th, this country needed to hear the live messages from the White House. So there is a room and a time and a space--

NICOLLE WALLACE:

But can I just stop this conversation. Does anyone think that the press secretary is going to be standing in the room and Trump won't be sitting in the Oval, like, tweeting something that might make bigger news or totally contradict? I mean--

JOE LOCKHART:

Or critiquing his press secretary.

NICOLLE WALLACE:

--I think that the whole convention of conventional-- I mean, I don't even know that this conversation will hold up 60 days into the Trump presidency. Because the idea that he's going to be able to tolerate watching someone at a podium delivering news that he thinks he can do better from whatever he tweets from is an assumption I'm not comfortable making.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, by the way, that's something you guys all I think never have had to experience, which is a principle that will go off the reservation a lot. And not tell you, the people in charge, of sort of--

ARI FLEISCHER:

It's his reservation. He's not -- never off it.

CHUCK TODD:

You're right.

ARI FLEISCHER:

But his staff has to catch up.

CHUCK TODD:

What the staff thinks is the reservation. The guardrails that they were trying to put up.

JOE LOCKHART:

I think the difference is, you know, probably the most important part of having the job is staying close to the president so you know what he's thinking, you know what he's doing.

NICOLLE WALLACE:

Or at least following him on Twitter.

JOE LOCKHART:

But in this case, this president doesn't like to share his views with his inner circle, try it there, and maybe go out-- he wants to share it with the world first. Everything's a trial balloon. Nothing is real. There's nothing that he tweets that's written in stone, because everything he does is to get a reaction and to judge, "Well, then if, you know, people didn't like that, I won't do that." That's not operative anymore. And it does go back to, I think, the Nixon days, where poor Ron Ziegler had to go out on a regular basis-- you guys are too young. But had to go out and someone would say, "Well, you told us yesterday this." And he said, "Well, yesterday's news is not operative."

ARI FLEISCHER:

But the real communicator here is Donald Trump. We're talking staff. We still have to see how Donald Trump handles the huge power he will now have as the president, commander-in-chief, and communicator.

CHUCK TODD:

There is one other job you guys have that people don't realize unless you're a member of the White House press corps and go overseas. And that is when you go overseas, we’re all on the same team. And there is this fight that take place overseas when it comes to press access more in the small-D democratic way. And every press secretary, you know, has fought for this in different ways. You know, this is something that, I'll be honest, some White House press corps are concerned, is that going to be there with this team? Are they going to be the protectors of the American press freedom in China?

NICOLLE WALLACE:

I remember fighting with some members of our press corps sometimes. And I said when they'd get their back up, I'd say, "Listen, don't yell at me. Because when I walk back through that door, I am the only person that gives a hoot that you get what you want before 5:00 p.m. today."

JOE LOCKHART:

I think there's a phrase that all presidents eventually get when they look at their spokesmen or communicators. And it's "Your friends in the press." Like you own them--

CHUCK TODD:

Presidents blame you as if you work for us, they think, right?

ARI FLEISCHER:

But you sort of do--

JOE LOCKHART:

There is a bigger thing here--

ARI FLEISCHER:

--the press secretary does.

JOE LOCKHART:

--which is you do have to fight for access. And not to get too serious here. What we do here does have an impact around the world. We do believe in democracy and we do believe in a free press. And when we undermine it, the rest of the world is watching. So when we go to Russia, which is always a fight. China, always a fight on access things. It sends a message to the people there that a president of the United States will say, "I'm not going into that meeting unless my press corps can come." But when we're doing that here, that's a problem.

ARI FLEISCHER:

One of the little-known parts of the job is your desk literally sits equidistance between the front door of the Oval Office and the podium in the briefing room on the other side of you. And the press secretary is paid to represent the president. But you also have to work with and represent the press corps. And it's a terrible balancing act.

CHUCK TODD:

And I think it gets harder and harder for these guys.

NICOLLE WALLACE:

It gets harder for these guys, because he's made so many of them, our own correspondents, personal targets. And I think that one of the things I'm most hopeful will stop is the targeting by name of individual journalists in that room. People don't understand that.

CHUCK TODD:

It's the one thing I asked of him. I said--

NICOLLE WALLACE:

What people don't understand--

CHUCK TODD:

--"Hit the organization, not the person."

NICOLLE WALLACE:

Right. And the people that cover him will wake up every day and go to work at the White House. That's their place of business. Their desks are under the briefing room. People don't realize that. They don't work in some far away bureau.

CHUCK TODD:

That's right.

NICOLLE WALLACE:

They go to work at the White House.

JOE LOCKHART:

And the real downside for the President is he helped his election bid by undermining the press and having people trust the press less. He's going to find a time where he needs the press to send this message both here and around the world. And that's the real trick. And that's a transition he's going to have to make.

ARI FLEISCHER:

Give him credit. He goes around the press. And he goes through the press. Since election day, he's done interviews with The Today Show, with 60 Minutes, with The New York Times, with The Wall Street Journal, with Time Magazine. So he does a lot of both.

JOE LOCKHART:

And in every one of those interviews, the important message was, "People out there, trust me. Don't trust what you read or you see." And the problem is that there's going to be a point at which, in a time of crisis, that he does need a free and strong press to get his message out, I believe. That could be old-fashioned.

CHUCK TODD:

You guys delivered. This was a fascinating discussion. And I will get yelled at by all my television colleagues for wanting to get rid of the televised briefing. But there you go. Anyway, Nicolle Wallace, Ari Fleischer, Joe Lockhart, a lot of fun here turning the tables.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, from press secretaries to press critics. I sit down with four people whose job it is to cover the people who cover the president. In other words, us, the media.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Throughout the campaign, we at NBC News sent a team of younger journalists, we call them "embeds,” to cover all the candidates who were running for president in all the states where they were running. It was a 24/7 job literally. You're a young political journalist, there may be no better way to get into the political world. So we thought we'd ask our embeds to reflect a little bit on their journey throughout 2016.

(BEGIN TAPE)

JORDAN FRASIER:

The hardest part about the campaign in so many ways is that it's sensory overload. From morning to night, there is just so much information coming at you.

ALEX JAFFE:

It was nonstop for seven days, a different city every night, sometimes three different cities every day.

KAILANI KOENIG:

One of the things that I liked best about the campaign trail was watching candidates get grilled by voters in places like New Hampshire, where people will just be able to walk right up to them and ask them the most pressing questions of their lives.

DANNY FREEMAN:

The kindness of Iowa voters was one of my favorite parts of the campaign trail. There was this one time I remember I was at the Iowa State Fair, very much lost and confused. And a farmer came up to me and showed me around, helped me understand where I was inside the pig barn, at the time. And he said, "I want to do this for you, because I hope if my son ever goes to New York someone will be kind enough to do the same for him."

ALI VITALI:

My most memorable interaction with Donald Trump was when I was taken into the buffer area around the stage over a rally during Christmas and asked to shoot cuts of the candidate up close, which is a normal piece of being an embed on the campaign trail. And as I got up there, I was holding my camera. And Donald Trump in the middle of his speech, turned and pointed to me and said--

DONALD TRUMP:

Look, here we have NBC. They're supposed to be back there, but that's okay.

ALI VITALI:

That was probably the most memorable and definitely the most bizarre interaction.

JORDAN FRASIER:

One of my favorite moments from the campaign trail happened in New Hampshire as Governor Bush was on a bus tour. And it was in the middle of a snowstorm. And I'm outside the bus with my camera raised, ready to film him. And as he's walking by me, he bends down and he forms a snowball. And he throws it at me. And he gets this big laugh out of it. And it was this moment that I'll always remember his personality really shining through.

JEB BUSH:

You can't do anything about it.

JORDAN FRASIER:

No.

JEB BUSH:

That’s not fair, actually--

VAUGHN HILLYARD:

The night that Mike Pence's plane goes off the runway, New York City, LaGuardia Airport, rain coming down. The plane lands. It veers. You kind of start to smell the rubber come up. And it's one of those moments where it's, like, you still got a job to do. You pick up the camera. You start filming. And you realize you can't believe this is happening.

SHAQUILLE BREWSTER:

Having a room full of voters who are there to see Dr. Carson at a campaign event in Iowa break out in a happy birthday song for me at a staffer's direction was one of the most memorable moments on the campaign. You know, you're going so many places. And sometimes you're giving up your birthday. And, you know, that really just made it special.

MONICA ALBA:

This was absolutely the best year and a half of my life, both professionally and personally. And I think what will make it so special is that I probably will never do it again, at least not this way.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Never do it again, but you'll never forget. Unbelievable group of young journalists. We're very lucky here at NBC. We'll be back in 90 seconds with our panel of media critics.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Let's face it. The press has had a rough year. In our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, just 16% of those surveyed had a great deal or quite a bit of confidence in the national news media. Fully 55% said they had very little or no confidence at all in us. Talk about uniting a polarized country. That, by the way, puts us behind the financial industry, which almost destroyed the economy a few years ago, and the federal government, and you know how people feel about those guys.

So a few days ago, we decided to bring together four people who make it their business to tell us what we're doing wrong and on some occasions, what we're actually trying to do right. David Folkenflik of NPR, Hal Boedeker of The Orlando Sentinel, Claire Atkinson of The New York Post, and Gabe Sherman of New York Magazine, who is also an NBC News media analyst.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

You have a president, right now a president-elect, but a president who has made no bones that he wants an antagonistic relationship with the press corps. It’s almost-- He's almost goading the press corps, goading folks like us to have an antagonistic relationship. Not since Nixon has that been this up front and perhaps not even-- it wasn't that up front then.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK:

Oh, I think that's right. I think he's prospered politically by being hostile to the press, antipathetic, suggesting he would go and create policies, make the libel laws easier to sue the press. His aides are-- Reince Priebus saying he's going to perhaps dispense with the briefings in the White House, all kinds of symbolic and rhetorical flourishes to show his hostility to the press in a way that, you know, makes it hard to have that usual kind of honeymoon feeling when a new administration sweeps in.

I think the press has to be open to the fact that this could be a conventional presidency, it could be a highly successful one. It could be ones that ultimately has some notions of transparency and accountability. But I don't think that it needs to sit back on its heels and just find out agnostically. I think it has to be ready to be aerobic.

I think it has to sort of operate on a split track, where it really watches the president's rhetoric and his administration for what it intends to do, but also saying, "We're going to watch the rules, the regulations, the appointments, the treaties, the policies, what we embrace, what we dispose of from the Obama administration. What are they doing in our name? How are they deploying the enormous mechanism of government?"

CHUCK TODD:

So if any report that Donald Trump doesn't like, and you have the president of the United States tweeting out, "Don't believe the NBC Nightly News, don't believe The New York Times, don't believe The Orlando Sentinel, they don't know what they're talking about," his people are not going to believe The New York Times. They’re not going to believe the NBC Nightly-- What do you, what do you do as a member of the press, when you have that where he is telling essentially half the country, "ignore"?

HAL BOEDEKER:

Keep going. Keep doing your job. You're serving the whole public, not just Mr. Trump's supporters. And keep remembering that. That more people voted for other candidates than Donald Trump. And going back to that question, I would say his business is central, that needs to be explored. I think that has great repercussions for what's going to happen in the next four years. What are his connections with other countries, the family? I think that's central in the early days.

GABE SHERMAN:

That’s the big question will be ultimately how much does the media, you know, chase the shiny object that Trump's throwing out each morning? I mean, you know, he’s-- The fact that he's tweeting is not news at this point. I mean, we got to cover what the president-elect and the president says.

But the fact that he's going to say something outrageous that then becomes the focus of the coverage I think is abdicating the role, which is the media should be setting the agenda and deciding what is the news. And yes, when the president says something, we cover it. But we should not just be ping ponging back and forth from his tweets.

CHUCK TODD:

What can the Washington press corps, Claire, learn from Donald Trump's incredible interactions with the tabloids of New York over the last 30 years?

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

Oh, that's a great question. Obviously he’s a--

CHUCK TODD:

I ask you that since you are at The New York Post.

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean you know this well.

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

I mean, he is a creature of The New York Post and of the tabloid world.

CHUCK TODD:

And he loves it, right?

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

He's been a feature of our front pages for many years, does love it. He obviously loves reading the paper as well. And I think he is a lover of all journalism. And I think that he reads things closely, like you say. He's in contact with journalists. And I think-- I feel like-- I'm an immigrant, obviously, and I'm from England and I voted for the very first time in this election.

And I was very taken aback by the results, as I think a lot of people were. And when I'm chatting with folks out there, they tell me two things. They tell me first that the media whiffed on this campaign completely.

CHUCK TODD:

Heard that a million times.

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

Yes. And then they tell me that they don't know what's real. Like they-- Even very smart people tell me, "I don't know what to believe anymore." And I think that's a really shocking thing, that we're in this world where people don't know what the facts are. And if the facts are out there, then there's people denying them. And it brings us to the whole world of fake news. And, I mean, I wanted to bring up the topic of the economics of the media business. They are really dominated by Google and Facebook. Digital advertising is going to be top TV for the first time next year, $200 billion in ad spending on digital.

And Google and Facebook have this huge role to play as members of the media, even if they're not actually employing journalists. People are getting their media from, you know, the fake news sites that are funded by Google AdWords, the stuff that turns up on Facebook. Facebook said that they are starting to ask users to flag fake news. So I think we’re-- You know this whole-- We're in a whole--

CHUCK TODD:

Which sounds like a nightmare--

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

--new era.

CHUCK TODD:

--by the way. That does not--

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

It's a-- They want to keep their hands clean.

CHUCK TODD:Yeah.

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

They don't want to be censors. They want to be, have other people crowdsource the news and review it like it's Yelp or something.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK:

So let's, so let’s build on that. So the tabloid press has this great symbiotic relationship with Trump because he gives them, he feeds them even stuff that's sometimes seemingly critical about himself to them over the decades so that they can put him in Page Six. They can put him in--

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

Well, one thing I want to say about that actually is our Page Six editor Emily broke a big story about the news meeting that Donald had. And there were tons of stories out there about how Donald Trump had planted it or Steve Bannon had made a call. Completely wrong. Our good reporting found out what happened.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK:

I'm even thinking about going back to his days about coverage of his matrimonial scandals and things like that. So there's the distraction factor. It's represented today in his tweeting. He can divert us anytime he wants. He sees something in The Times, he sees something on TV. He'll tweet about it. We report on tweeting, Hamilton the musical, whatever. That's fine. You know, that could be a box on Page Six every day, Mr. President Tweets.

GABE SHERMAN:

You know I've covered the Trump campaign, I've covered the media and, you know, I find the Trump campaign, in a certain way, more transparent than a lot of other institutions I've covered. And if you-- rewind to the Obama administration, I mean, incredibly nontransparent. Trump sources love the gossip, they love to talk to reporters.

Trump himself loves to talk to reporters. So I do think that there is a little bit of an overplay here that this is the least transparent.

CHUCK TODD:

But let me-- And I will say, he loves-- Look, he loves old school press. Loves magazines, he loves all this stuff. This could be a honeymoon for sort of old media.

GABE SHERMAN:

Of course.

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

I was going to say--

CHUCK TODD:Yes.

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

I've seen some of the best political reporting since the campaign began. Tough interviewing.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK:

But let's differentiate two kinds of-- Let’s differentiate two kinds of transparency. He has done more interviews than you've seen in perhaps ever.

CHUCK TODD:

That's right.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK:

And it's been astonishing to see. He doesn't necessarily always be forthcoming, he might not answer the questions, but he's definitely there. His campaign staffers are engaged with you guys and talking to people who covered the campaign. And that's a good thing. But when it gets to the meat of the matter, when it gets to what are these, you know, layers upon layers of LLCs and, you know, corporate holdings, what are-- you know, Mr. Trump's taxes. You know, we don't know some of the key things that I think we need to evaluate him.

CHUCK TODD:

How do you define objectivity in the age of Trump? And I say this because, you know, Trump's going to have his own version of it, who's fair and what's not. Trump has what I call sort of concierge, concierge media friends. I'm not going to name names here, but we all know who they are. Basically, people he knows that can help steer a conversation for him or get rid of. And it's in multiple networks, it's all over in multiple print publications. How does a mainstream press corps deal with that?

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

Harvard Kennedy School had a report out last week. They look-- They analyze positive and negative news reports. And they found that during the election, Trump had a 77% negative and Clinton had 64 and it was almost the inverse for the full campaign. But the point they were making was--

CHUCK TODD:

They both got negative press is what you’re saying.

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

--they both had very, very negative press.

CHUCK TODD:

And they had both negative favorable ratings.

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

Exactly. And, you know, I think the point, the point there is that the press shook these candidates upside down for two, almost two years. And, you know, what did they find out? Did we really get the answers we wanted?

CHUCK TODD:

Right, was it fair?

GABE SHERMAN:

You know, I think both campaigns, you talk to the Clinton people, they always feel besieged. I think when you deci-- let candidates decide what's fair, I think that's, you know, that's just the wrong ballgame. I think the reporters and, you know, the journalism industry as a whole should sort of assess, "Was the coverage fair?" That's what, you know, these, these panels like the Harvard gathering were about.

You know, we come together to sort of hash out how was the coverage. I think the consensus was that, while there was some very good coverage in 2016, some great enterprise coverage, I think the general tenor was that the media missed this election.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess what I-- Let me ask you guys this though. Define media. I always like to say that to-- Define media. The journalism of the mainstream media I thought was outstanding this year. But the loudest voices, Hal, are not mainstream journalists.

HAL BOEDEKER:

That criticism works when you say, "It's reported in The New York Times." When you're specific, then it registers. When you're saying, "the media," you know, then we're just a punching bag. And I don't think, you know, that just doesn't matter--

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

--it speaks to how we get our news. We get our news by our phones. We don't get a big newspaper and the ability to read a 1,000 word story on a phone can be difficult. My friends were telling me, "Well, I really wanted to know about that health care topic, but I had a popup and then I couldn't get to the second page." And, you know, this is the reality of how people consume their news today.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK:

When we think about fairness, and I think that that is now the standard increasingly that people we think of as journalists aspire to, as opposed to objectivity, where we're being evenhanded. The question is are we being fair to the subject? Are we being contextual? Or are we rendering it in a way that's understandable and that people recognize themselves in?

I think that we, part of what we're trying to do is figure out an incredibly asymmetrical campaign year. You know, this isn't Bush-Gore, you know, two figures who are clear politicians come up. You are examining somebody with 100% name recognition in Donald Trump, who has never held or even run for elective office. You're examining somebody with Hillary Clinton who's held a bunch of offices and been in a public eye, a public sphere in a sense as first lady as well for, you know, two and a half decades.

And she's been gone over every element of her candidacy and her record in a thousand different ways, and he's had none of this done. So he's having everything scrutinized, particularly I want to say, in the general election. I got to say, in the primary season, I wouldn't say that the press did wonderfully, the conventional press.

I'd say that they basically, the cable outlets essentially acquiesced to his programming. And I'd say that there wasn't a lot of scrutiny because people were, even though he led except for about 72 hours, pillar to post for a year in the polls, in the primaries, people didn't really think it was going to happen. So they didn't give him the kind of scrutiny that suddenly you saw an incredible tsunami of in the general election.

But it seems to me that when you're having an-- one finding after another about Trump with implications in the public sphere, it looks very negative. At the same time, that's the fact checking. On the Clinton side, you also found the news agenda hijacked a bit by the Russian hacks and the WikiLeak dump, which meant that every day they were responding to something different. And this was as asymmetrical a pace for the two campaign coverages that I think I've ever seen.

HAL BOEDEKER:

And they were just both so unpopular. I mean, just unpopular. I mean, I went home, asked my dad and my brother, "Would you have ever thought of voting for Hillary Clinton?" And they both laughed and they dropped some expletives and they went off on how corrupt they thought she was. So then my dad starts criticizing Trump. And I’m just like-- And he goes, "Well, he has to be better than what we have." So I think maybe the media missed this frustration out there in the heartland. I think that may be one strand that wasn't in the coverage.

CHUCK TODD:

Will the media's reputation be worse? And it's the final question for everybody. Try to keep it short for all four of you. Be worse or better at the end of 2017 in the first year of the Trump presidency? Gabe?

GABE SHERMAN:

I hope it's better. I hope that, you know, once Trump is the president, that the conventional media will cover him and he will be accountable. He'll no longer be a candidate. He will be the president and his voters will want to know, "Is he delivering on his promises?"

CHUCK TODD:

Reputationally-wise, what do you think that the media will be with the public?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK:

I think there's the great potential for it to be better. I think it took a lot of hits that were unfair, as a lot of hits that are fair. And at that same time, I think the reputation will all be a result of conscious choices being made by journalists, by their executives, by their corporate backers in a lot of sense to say, "We're going to be up for the challenge, and yet, we're going to embrace this fairly."

HAL BOEDEKER:

I hope it's better. But I think a lot depends on how he reacts and how his White House reacts.

CHUCK TODD:

I think that's fair. Claire, final word.

CLAIRE ATKINSON:

Yeah, I think we're going to see the apple cart completely overturned. We're going to see news outlets take precedence that haven't before. I mean, I have a stat here, Steve Bannon's Breitbart website went from 132 in the top news sites for November, to 38. Just to put some context around that, HuffPost was 40. I mean, we're going to see new outlets come and dominate the news cycle. And, you know, what's real and fake will I think be up for debate still.

CHUCK TODD:

I think individual outlets will be better and the overall reputation will be worse.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK:I think that’s entirely possible.

CHUCK TODD:

Somehow, both things are true.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we'll be back in a moment with the view from basically the other side, the editors of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

And we are back. To hear Donald Trump tell it, most news organizations were politically biased, going out of business or both. But the challenges of reporting on Trump went beyond his habit of taking aim at journalists. I recently talked with two of the most important newspaper editors in the country, Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal and Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times. I began my talk with Baquet, who I asked, if he would've covered Donald Trump differently, knowing what he knows now.

DEAN BAQUET:

Sure, I would've done stuff differently. I'm not sure I would've covered him differently as a candidate. I think I would've tried to go a little bit deeper in understanding the anger in the country. It was the same anger in the country that led to the rise of Bernie Sanders and led to the rise of Donald Trump.

I think if news organizations made a mistake, and I can only speak for my own, I think that we wrote stories about anger in the country. We even did a series called Anxiety in America. But, of course, we should've done more. And I think people would've been less surprised, had we done more. That's what I would've done differently.

CHUCK TODD:

How much of this do you think -- Here's what I've chalked up some of the Trump coverage to in our own, which is we in the Acela Corridor of the media from New York to DC knew Donald Trump the person too well. And let that almost cloud or dominate our own focus in ways we didn't realize really until after the fact.

DEAN BAQUET:

You know, I guess I'm going to make the case that the coverage of Donald Trump the person and Donald Trump the candidate was actually quite strong, if you look at the whole of the press. Given what he didn't share, like his taxes and information about his income, we learned a lot about him.

We learned a lot about his business. We learned a lot about him as a person. I think what we could've done better was to understand why the country found Donald Trump appealing and why the country found him more appealing than some of the more traditional candidates like Jeb Bush.

CHUCK TODD:

You feel as if he is well-vetted, even though we've never seen his tax returns?

DEAN BAQUET:

No. I think he was well-investigated.

CHUCK TODD:

Got you.

DEAN BAQUET:

I think there're some huge, unanswered questions. We don't actually know how wealthy he is. We don't actually know what he owns, what he doesn't own. We've taken stabs at how much debt he has. We don't quite know the full extent of his financial dealings in some of the countries where he's going to have to make huge decisions. There's a lot we don't know.

I was sort of addressing the issue of what the press could've done differently. But I think there's a huge amount we don't know about Donald Trump and his finances. And even, I would say, what he believes in. I think that Donald Trump himself has said many things about different issues. He's said different things when he met with The New York Times. He has said different things in large rallies. I think that there are a lot of question marks about Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's interesting you put it that way. When it comes to Donald Trump's opinion of The New York Times, I think it depends on who his audience is. Let me play you two clips of him, talking about The New York Times. And there were two very different audiences when he talked about it. Here they are.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

The failing New York Times, and it is failing, it won't be in business, in my opinion, more than three or four more years, they said in an article, in a major article, "Let's face it. Balance has been on vacation since Mr. Trump stepped onto his golden Trump Tower escalator."

DONALD TRUMP:

The Times, it's a great, great American jewel, world jewel. And I hope we can all get along.

(END TAPE)

DEAN BAQUET:

I agree. I agree with the second characterization completely.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, the audience was I think you and the rest of The New York Times for that second one. Obviously, the first one was a rally.

DEAN BAQUET:

That's right. That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

This presents a very difficult situation. I face it myself personally from him sometimes, we face it as a network, where he personalizes coverage and disagreements about coverage with the organization and sometimes with individual reporters. You're a human being, I'm a human being. It's not easy sometimes doing that. How are you instructing your journalists to handle the personal attacks that may come his way in a very public setting?

DEAN BAQUET:

Yeah. Well, I have two points. First off, the things he has said about the press in general are troublesome. I mean, and whatever audience he's playing to. He has said things that should make all journalists nervous about his view of the First Amendment, about his view of a press that's supposed to ask him tough questions. So that makes me nervous.

On the other hand, in covering him, what I instruct my staff and what I try to do myself is we have a huge obligation to cover this guy aggressively and fairly. And that means not letting personalities get in the way. Of course, it's annoying if somebody says that you're the failing New York Times. Especially, by the way, since it's not true.

CHUCK TODD:

And you want to scream, "What are you-- oh no," but then you look--

DEAN BAQUET:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

--defensive, right?

DEAN BAQUET:

No, that's right. My view is the way to deal with all questions about journalism is more journalism and good journalism, deep, investigative reporting and deep questioning reporting. And to put whatever personal stuff he says about my institution off to the side. Other than the fact that some of the things he says about journalists and journalism is troublesome.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you two more questions on this front. One has to do with having an op-ed page. Obviously, we have one on television with cable on certain parts of a different cable channels. And it’s a question I’ve asked of other -- and it's, look, we've had editorial pages and regular newspaper coverage for years all over the country. The conflation that has taken place today between opinion and news is harder and harder to sort of unwrap, unravel. Do you think it makes it that your job is harder today because of that, even though the opinion page has always been what it's been?

DEAN BAQUET:

Sure, it is. It's harder today partly because the medium where people read us most, let's say on the phone, it’s a little bit, I mean, there is a vast space between the front page of The New York Times and the opinion page of the New York Times. Literal space. And I think it makes it easier to create a separation, just a geographic separation that's a lot harder to do on the phone. That said, I do think readers sort of understand that Paul Krugman does not work for me.

CHUCK TODD:

You do think that? You do think readers do know that for sure?

DEAN BAQUET:

Well, Paul, who I think is a fabulous columnist and criticizes me sometimes.

CHUCK TODD:

No, I know. He gets us all.

DEAN BAQUET:

No, no, I didn't mean personally. I think they do. I think we have to work harder to make it, to make the distinction clearer. I think they do. Let's not kid ourselves. Even in the print era, people didn't always make the distinction. I think it's harder to do now, especially in the presentation on the phone, but I sort of think they do.

CHUCK TODD:

I think my final question to you here, and I thought it was a fabulous op-ed in The New York Times from mid-December, and it was by Masha Gessen. And it was writing about Trump. "By denying known and provable facts, as when Mr. Trump denies making statements he has made or by rejecting facts that are not publicly known as with the C.I.A.'s information on Russian hacking, Mr. Trump exercises his ever growing power over the public sphere. The resulting frenzy of trying to prove either the obvious known facts or the classified and therefore unknowable facts, two fruitless pursuits, creates so much static that we forget what we are really talking about."

And I think it's especially challenging for reporters when you want to fact check the guy you're covering, and he wants you to fact check some small thing, while avoiding the bigger story.

DEAN BAQUET:

Yeah. I actually think we had a really interesting debate in our daily news meeting about how to handle Donald Trump's tweets. And I was hearing from so many people, I thought we had to discuss it. And in the end, he's the President of the United States. And in the end, everything he says, small and large, bears scrutiny and reporting.

Will there get to be a point, you know, a year from now, where he is tweeting about, you know, what he saw at the theater last night and that's less interesting? Maybe. On the other hand, you've got to admit that if the president of the United States tweets something about something he watched or something that upsets him, you've got to scrutinize it.

These aren't press releases. These are the personal utterances of the president. I think we have to treat them with balance, right? If he tweets about a world issue or about Russia, big story. If he tweets about Vanity Fair, small story, but a small story that offers a little bit insight into his temperament too.

CHUCK TODD:

Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times.

DEAN BAQUET:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

It’s going to be interesting times up ahead, but I'm with you. I'm optimistic about--

DEAN BAQUET:

Good.

CHUCK TODD:

--the future of journalism. Thanks, Dean.

DEAN BAQUET:

Good. So am I. Take care.

CHUCK TODD:

Next, I spoke with Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal and I began our conversation asking how the Journal responds to the public broadsides from the president-elect.

CHUCK TODD:

Like The New York Times, like NBC News, Donald Trump has targeted The Wall Street Journal specifically. Here's one one time in South Carolina in the middle of the primary campaign.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

I'm not a believer in The Wall Street Journal. I think it's a piece of garbage. It's going to lose a fortune anyway. Don't worry, it'll be out of business like all the rest of them very soon.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Obviously, filled with hyperbole and sarcasm. How did you handle the direct attacks?

GERARD BAKER:

You know, you have to get used to it, Chuck. You get used to the, you know, those kind of attacks. You get used to this kind of strange tough love that sort of Donald Trump, his modus operandi for dealing with the press. He'd say exactly things like that and he'd attack our reporters individually, he'd attack anything we'd done, anything he didn't like. And then at the same time, you also know how much he actually reads the newspaper or watches TV.

CHUCK TODD:

It was interesting. There was I guess a leaked memo where you went to the newsroom, you said, reemphasizing, "Everybody's got to be fair to him." Were you concerned that the personal attacks were going to make some of your reporters react? They're human. We're all human beings. And when you personally get attacked, it's hard to sort of set that aside. Were you concerned about that in your newsroom--

GERARD BAKER:

I was concerned about that. Look, I think there is, it's certainly true that Donald Trump has been a different kind of candidate, presumably will be a different kind of president. He operates outside the mainstream. He says things that are challengeable, to put it mildly, that are questionable. And I think a lot of reporters somehow feel very much that they are part of the, they’re in the contest, really. And that it's their job to take him on. And, of course, it's reporters' jobs to take everybody on, you know, to test everything that a politician says against the truth. But I was concerned. And it was things, Chuck, things like Twitter. I mean, a lot of our reporters, your reporters too, your colleagues, tweet the whole time. Social media's become such an important part of it. And they would go beyond the reporting of the story.

CHUCK TODD:

To give, like, a bar conversation.

GERARD BAKER:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, they'd offer their commentary on a story on Twitter. And I was concerned, look, you know, you're entitled to your own views about Donald Trump. You're entitled to your own views about Hillary Clinton. But you know, our readers -- It's about trust. If our readers see that you're saying scathing things about Donald Trump on Twitter or they hear you on TV saying things in a commentary way that appear to be very critical and hostile to Donald Trump, they're not going to trust what you write.

Even when you’re writing, absolutely write fairly, you report fairly. But if they think that you are coming from a position, they're not going to trust you. So I was very concerned that we be seen to be fair. We be fair to all candidates and we not be seen to be out there kind of engaged in the political debate.

And I do think one of the problems with trust in this country is that, for a very long time, people have seen news presented by news organizations in a way that they think is unfair. You know, it's no accident, there's the old joke about Fox News, when Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes started Fox News 20 years ago, that they said, you know, they were catering for a niche audience. And it turns out the niche is 50%, right? People were unhappy with the mainstream media, whether it was newspapers, television or whatever. So they did see an opportunity.

CHUCK TODD:

The issue of facts. We don’t -- people always say, "You've got to fact check, you've got to fact check." There isn't an agreement on what the facts are. And this is yet another challenge for you and everybody here. Do you feel comfortable saying so and so lied? You know, if somebody says just an outright falsehood, do you say the word, "lie"? Is that important to start putting in reporting, or not?

GERARD BAKER:

You know it’s a good -- I'd be careful about using the word, "lie." "Lie" implies much more than just saying something that's false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead. I think it’s perfectly -- when Donald Trump says thousands of people were on the rooftops of New Jersey on 9/11 celebrating, thousands of Muslims were there celebrating, I think it's right to investigate that claim, to report what we found, which is that nobody found any evidence of that whatsoever, and to say that.

I think it's then up to the reader to make up their own mind to say, "This is what Donald Trump says. This is what a reliable, trustworthy news organization reports. And you know what? I don't think that's true." I think if you start ascribing a moral intent, as it were, to someone by saying that they've lied, I think you run the risk that you look like you are, like you’re not being objective.

And I do think also it applies -- this is happening all the time now, people are looking at Donald Trump's saying and saying, "This is false. It's a false claim." I think people say, "Well, you know what? Hillary Clinton said a lot of things that were false." I don't recall the press being quite so concerned about saying that she lied in headlines or in stories like that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. If you could wave a magic wand and you became sort of the arbiter of what the relationship of the press corps should be with powerful people in Washington and Wall Street, what would you change?

GERARD BAKER:

I think that it’s a little, it’s interesting. I think it's a little too deferential. Going back to what you said, Chuck, about the British media, again, the British media have lots of flaws. And I wouldn't want to replicate what the British media do here. They're great, they have a slightly kind of, they have a much edgier approach. There are many things that I don't like about the British press, but there is certainly a lack of deference.

And I think if you take any of the big -- the way in which the media cover stories, I think there is in this country still a slight sense, and it's understandable because the presidency itself is an institution of state. It's very important. It's very much a part of, you know, the Constitutional arrangement.

And I think there is a sense that people have some kind of deference towards it. I think there needs to be a little less deference, a little less insider behavior. A little less coziness that there's been sometimes between the media and the major political institutions.

CHUCK TODD:

I agree on that too. Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal --

GERARD BAKER:

Thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD:

-- great conversation. Happy new year.

GERARD BAKER:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

There you go. Two men behind the print journalism that drives a lot of coverage, Dean Baquet of The New York Times and Gerard Baker of The Wall Street Journal. When we come back, data doesn't have another emotions. You can't hurt data's feelings or bruise its ego. And that's a very good thing because data, you had a very bad year. And no one is happier to see 2017 than, well, data. It's a long way of saying our very special data download is next.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data download time for 2017. But let's be honest, 2016 was a bad year for data. From the United States, to our friends across the pond in the U.K., this was a bad year to use data to create odds. A bad year for trying to predict things. And, of course, top of that list, Donald Trump winning the presidency.

Going into Election Day, Five-Thirty-Eight-dot-com had Trump as a long shot, with a 28.6 percent chance of winning. The New York Times' upshot had him at just 15 percent. Others had him as low as 2 percent. But we all know how this story ends. Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote. Donald Trump marched to victory in the Electoral College. And his inauguration, of course, is just a few short weeks away.

But even before Trump bested the odds makers politically, we already had a sign from Britain that this might be a tough year for political predictions all around the world in June on the eve of that referendum vote to determine whether or not the United Kingdom would leave the European Union, British gambling company Ladbrokes put the odds of a leave vote at just 10 percent.

Of course, Brexit won. And today, U.K. politicians are trying to figure out how to unwind their EU ties.

But the shortcomings of data went even beyond the world of politics and into the other world, where I like to spend some time, sports. In June, the Cleveland Cavaliers overcame their city's losing streak to win the NBA championship. After the Cavs fell behind in that series against the Warriors three to one, the odds of King James taking home the title at that point had climbed to as high as 40 to one. Well, we all know what happened. The Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to come back from a three to one deficit and raise that Larry O'Brien trophy.

In October, the Chicago Cubs shook off a 108 year old World Series drought and overcame their own three games to one deficit. In fact, before this year, there were 34 world series where one team took a three to one lead. And the trailing team only came back to win five times. That's fewer than 15 percent of the time. Another upset.

Finally, let's travel back across the pond to Leicester City, coming from nowhere, and I mean, nowhere, to win the English Premier League soccer championship, or you might call it football, I should say. Before the season started, Leicester City's odds of winning were a whopping 5,000 to one.

All right, all of these results, of course, made these numbers look a little silly. There's been a lot of focus, especially in politics, on how pollsters "Got it wrong." But a bigger lesson for those of us in the media is to not worry so much about predicting the future. As journalists, we're going to report on what is actually happening. History matters, but history is made to not be repeated sometimes too. So maybe we shouldn't try to offer odds on what may happen. But since nothing has been turning out how anyone predicted it would, with the NFL playoffs around the corner, it might be time to start shorting the New England Patriots in thinking that they are some shoe in for the Super Bowl.

All right, that is all for this first Sunday of 2017. Thanks for watching. Have a safe and happy new year. Enjoy all the football in the next 48 hours because we'll back next week, because in 2017, as always, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *