"If this is a preview of what we're going to expect at all of Trump's future news conferences, then the producer of 'The Celebrity Apprentice' now has a new television series: 'Beat the Press.'"
That's how one seasoned White House correspondent described his reaction and those of his colleagues Thursday afternoon following President Trump's first televised news conference.
In a performance at the East Room of the White House that left many who cover Trump breathless, the president read a lengthy statement about his appointment of Alexander Acosta as secretary of labor and a number of other issues.
"I inherited a mess — a real mess," he said several times, mentioning the need to change Obamacare and denouncing the Iran nuclear agreement ("one of the worst I've ever seen").
But then he began to talk about reporting that upset him and what he considers "fake news."
He blamed what he called "the failing New York Times" for stories about contacts his supports made with Russia and attacked claims he was disappointed with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Priebus, in Trump's words, "is doing a great job."
Trump did have a refreshing start on the question-and-answer segment by calling on reporters he did not know, as well as those he knew and even considered hostile. He needled longtime target Jim Acosta of CNN, joshing he was worried Cabinet nominee Acosta might be related to newsman Acosta.
But then he lashed into Acosta for having panelists "who all hate me" on his evening program. When a reporter identified himself with the BBC, Trump groaned: "Great — another beauty."
And he even asked a reporter from a Jewish publication "are you a friendly reporter?"
Those who cover presidents scrambled to find any precedent for Trump's near 90-minute performance. European correspondents had distinct analogies to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who would identify reporters who were critical of him by name and then cite stories and what he considered errors in their reporting.
Historian Justin Coffey sees an older, American precedent for Trump's performance: Vice President Spiro Agnew, in his Nov. 13, 1969 speech in Des Moines, Iowa, excoriating the national news media.
"Agnew argued that the networks, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek, were all liberal and hostile," said Coffey, author of a much-praised biography of Agnew. "We heard same thing today with President Trump, whose press secretary has been taking a number of questions from conservative outlets like TownHall or the Christian Broadcasting Network."
Coffey recalled how Republican activists cheered Agnew because they agreed the media was slanted and enjoyed his calling them down.
Trump, he said, "is likely to get a similar response from his party's base today. It hasn't changed much."
Trump himself would most likely agreed. As he said during his news conference, "I'm good for ratings."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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