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Déjà vu: Donald Trump's Nixonian relationship with the press

The 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon, on a television screen.    (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
The 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon, on a television screen. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Keystone/Getty Images

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President-elect Donald Trump was scheduled to meet with reporters, editors and the publisher of the New York Times Tuesday. Then, a little after three this morning, Trump tweeted that he was canceling his appointment, claiming that terms and conditions of the meeting were changed at the last minute.

A spokeswoman for the Times insisted that no changes had been made. Trump later met with the New York Times after all.

The scuffle comes on the heels of a Monday summit at the Trump Tower with several prominent tv personalities, during which time the President-elect reportedly excoriated the press.

Based on the President-elect's interactions with journalists this week, what one predict about his relationship with the press in the future? 

Take Two put that question to Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center.


What has been the standard when it comes to the relationship between the Commander-in-Chief, the President-elect, and the news media?

It's always been adversarial. We should remember that — going back early into our history with newspapers — newspapers were very partisan in the early republic. The kinds of things they said about Thomas Jefferson for example, or John Adams were pretty colorful.

It's the case that we've had this controversial and sometimes adversarial relationship all the way through. We're seeing that play out, but probably at a higher level with Donald Trump than we ever had before.

When you look back, are there any presidents that might offer parallel examples here? Maybe relationships to bear in mind?

Nixon comes to mind immediately. Most people think of him in light of all of the conflicts that he had with the media and with the press.

Very famously, he said as he lost the California governor's race in 1962 that he was bowing out of politics; he was retiring. Then he said as he left the stage that the press wouldn't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore. So he carried that right on through and at the end that was his downfall in the Watergate scandal — the investigative reporting of Woodward and Bernstein for the Washington Post.

Of course, if you feel 'kicked-around' you could see where the press might not necessarily be considered your greatest ally, but in general what is in it for the president? Why would you want to foster a solid and open relationship with the news media?

It's always beneficial for the White House and the President and the presidency as an office to court the press. Access, though, which is what the press wants, means that the president then does not have complete control of his message and all presidents want to have that.

Unless he can control the access, which obviously Donald Trump is trying to do, it defeats the purpose of having the access in the first place. It's a real fine line that has to be walked. Some presidents do it with style and grace — FDR, JFK, Reagan — certainly Nixon and Donald Trump seem not so much.

Press the blue play button above to hear the full interview.

(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)