After weeks and weeks of delay, President-elect Donald Trump held his first postelection press conference. The conference itself was relatively short and didn’t necessarily provide many substantive answers about conflicts of interest, which was ostensibly what the main topic was. However, it did lay the framework for how Trump’s press conferences will go once he is formally in office and gave us an indicator of what to expect:
Trump called this press conference to explain to the American people and the media how he will deal with potential conflicts of interest between his business and upcoming role as president of the United States (after having canceled a similar presser almost a month ago). The press was in a no-huddle offense: They hit him with question after question, and Trump spent the majority of his time saying that he didn’t actually have to separate from his business, that he was only doing so out of deference to the office. Then he called a timeout and brought out his lawyer, Sheri Dillon, who provided a long-winded and well-detailed explanation for Trump’s divestment-and-separation procedure. After she lulled the press with her monologue, most of the conflict questions disappeared.
Trump has lied on several occasions about his feelings about the role of Russian hacking in the 2016 election. During the campaign, he encouraged it and called on Russia to keep hacking. Once elected, he said that Russia had nothing to do with the hacking and attacked U.S. intelligence agencies that pointed to Russian meddling in the election. At the beginning of this press conference, he said he believed that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee, then followed up by stating he believed that lots of other nations hack the United States, too. It is not clear what the president-elect will say about Russian hacking going forward, but what was clear from this presser is that he will not encourage retaliation against Russia once he’s in office.
The term “fake news” is the epitome of gaslighting or, worse, the “goodspeak” of Orwell’s 1984. There is no such thing as “fake news.” News is facts and information; if it is not verifiable fact (even selective use of facts are still facts), then it’s not news, it’s slander or speculation. Fake news has become the catchall word for conservatives and white nationalists to describe any reporting that is critical of Donald Trump.
At the press conference, Trump accused CNN and BuzzFeed of being “fake news” outlets because they reported on an unverified report, compiled by a former British intelligence agent, that states Russia has embarrassing personal and economic information about the incoming president. Not only was this a horrible conflation by Trump (BuzzFeed released the documents; CNN, along with many other outlets, only reported that a two-page summary of the document was given to Trump and President Barack Obama), but he didn’t address much of what was contained in the document, verified or not. He then proceeded to blame the press and double down on a tweet he wrote comparing U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany. According to CNN reporter Jim Acosta, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer threatened to kick him out of the press conference for asking an aggressive followup in defense of CNN.
Like Russian hacking, tax returns and other issues, Trump has either lied or has been inconsistent as well with regard to his position on building a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out undocumented immigrants. At the press conference, he was asked if the wall was going to be built and, if so, who would pay for it. Trump stated that Mexico would start paying for it in 2018 (without providing evidence of any pending agreements), but said that since he didn’t want to wait that long, they’d start the wall sooner. In elaborating further, Trump stated that Mexico would pay for the wall either in the form of taxes or fines or levies against our Southern neighbor. The former and current Mexican presidents have made it clear, on several occasions, that Mexico is not paying for anything.
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.