In Friday’s news conference, Trump lashed out at CNN, which he called “fake news,” and NBC, which he called “dishonest reporting,” and gave a lot of question time to Fox News. For some members of the British press, this was apparently something new to behold. Afterwards, one BBC commentator said he was “struck by the way any hostile question is dismissed as ‘dishonest reporting’ or ‘fake news.’” He kept recounting the story of “the poor bloke from CNN,” whom Trump passed over in the press conference. “That’s part of the way he operates.”
One of the most dramatic moments was when Trump called an on-the-record bombshell interview he had given to The Sun “fake news”—even though The Sun, a tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, had quoted the president verbatim and even posted audio from the interview, in which Trump had lambasted May over her handling of Brexit. With the banner headline “May Has Wrecked Brexit … US Deal Is Off!,” the interview landed Thursday evening, just as Trump was sitting down to a gala dinner hosted by May at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, the birthplace of Winston Churchill.
In the interview, Trump criticized May’s interest in a “soft Brexit,” a line taken by Boris Johnson, who quit as foreign secretary earlier this week to protest that very point. (The line is also taken by Nigel Farage, a leading Brexiteer and now a Fox News commentator, who told the BBC he’d been discussing Brexit with members of Trump’s circle; Politico reported that he’s angling for a meeting with Trump.) More importantly, Trump also told The Sun that a soft Brexit would scuttle any possible bilateral trade deals with the United States.
At the press conference, Trump tried to walk things back—sort of. He said the U.S. would continue to trade with Britain. Then he poured effusive praise on May. And said he’d apologized to her.
“I thought it was a surprising presser,” said Katy Balls, a political correspondent for The Spectator. “It was strange to watch really, that basically we’ve gotten to such a drastic point—what seemed to be the president saying he doesn’t support Theresa May on Brexit, then his saccharine support of her. I don’t think it was particularly coherent.”
How to frame quotes by someone who bends reality and calls his own statements fake news? Does the president understand what he’s doing?
Before the press conference, Tom Newton Dunn, the politics editor of The Sun who conducted the interview with Trump, said he wasn’t sure Trump understood how damaging his remarks on Brexit could be to May, even though the president was clearly criticizing her. “If Theresa May gets Brexit wrong here, then she’s out of a job,” Dunn told CNN. “If you start talking into that sort of territory, I really think anyone who’s done Politics 101 knows that’s going to cause trouble.”