You know things are bad when your administration's attacks on the press are so rotten, even Fox's Chris Wallace starts sounding like a journalist. If RNCPRBS was expecting a cushy interview from the usually friendly territory of Fox "news" this Sunday morning, he was in for an unpleasant surprise.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus got more than he bargained for when he tried telling the host of Fox News Sunday how to do his job in response to Wallace's questions about the Trump administration's attacks on the media and press freedom and his labeling of the media as an "enemy" of the American people.
WALLACE: President Trump is punching back against critics especially in the media who say after just 30 days in office his administration has gone off the tracks. He made his case this week in an extraordinary news conference, and then yesterday in Florida in a campaign-style rally.
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TRUMP: We are here today to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I hear your demands, I hear your voices, and I promise you that I will deliver. I promise that.
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WALLACE: Joining us now from Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach is White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Reince, I want to start with President Trump’s --
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Good morning, Chris.
WALLACE: -- tweet on Friday afternoon. This is what he wrote, "The fake news media (failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people."
Reince, the president believes that a free and independent press is a threat to the country?
PRIEBUS: No, I think -- I think for the most part -- and I understand where he’s coming from -- is that there are certain things that are happening in the news that just aren’t honest. And we’re not talking about everyone, Chris. We’re not talking about all news, but we’re talking about something that I guess he’s termed as fake news.
Let me give you an example. First of all, The New York Times put out an article with no direct sources that said that the Trump campaign had constant contacts with Russian spies, basically, you know, some treasonous type of accusations. We have now all kinds of people looking into this. I can assure you and I have been approved to say this -- that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it’s grossly overstated and it was wrong. And there’s nothing to it.
And so, if I can say that to the American people, then what does it say about the story?
The next day, Chris. The Wall Street Journal puts out a story that says that they have anonymous sources that say that the intelligence community is purposefully cutting out material from President Trump's briefing material that he gets everyday. That then proved to be untrue. All of the agencies put out a statement saying it was totally inaccurate.
Then, we get --
WALLACE: Reince, I get the fact that you don’t like -- I get the fact that you don’t like some stories. First of all, you made some news there at the top and I want to a follow up on that.
You say, because you’ve said before, you weren’t part of the campaign, so you cannot speak to that. You say that the intelligence community says that there were no contacts between anyone in the Trump campaign, any associate of Mr. Trump and anybody involved as a Russian agent as to the campaign and collusion in the campaign with Russia? Is that what you're saying?
PRIEBUS: Yes, they’ve told me -- absolutely. They have made it very clear that that story in The New York Times is complete garbage. And, quite frankly, they use different words than that, OK?
WALLACE: Who is it that said that?
PRIEBUS: And then when I read back --
WALLACE: Who is it that said that?
PRIEBUS: I’m not going to tell you. I can’t tell you that.
WALLACE: Wait a minute. Wait a minute, Reince. You just complained about unnamed sources, you are using an unnamed source.
PRIEBUS: Well, because I didn’t ask for approval to use their name. But I will tell you this, when I say top level people, I mean top level people, OK?
WALLACE: So, no collusion whatsoever between anybody involved with Trump and anybody involved with Russia in the 2016 campaign?
PRIEBUS: No. And if you look at Devin Nunes’ comments in the actual paper on the record, Chris --
WALLACE: Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
PRIEBUS: He was briefed by the FBI. And what did he do? He turned around and went on the record and said that this story is complete garbage, OK? So, here we are --
WALLACE: Here's the problem. Reince, wait a minute, here’s the problem -- I don’t have any problem with you complaining about an individual story. We sometimes got it wrong, you guys sometimes got it wrong. I don't have any problem with you complaining about bias.
But you went a lot further than that, or to the president went a lot further than that. He said that the fake media, not certain stories, the fake media are an enemy to the country. We don’t have a state-run media in the country. That's what they have in dictatorships.
PRIEBUS: OK, listen, Chris, it’s not just two stories. Then, it’s followed up by 24 hours a day, seven days a week of other cable stations, not necessarily FOX, that all day long on every Chyron, every seven minutes are talking about the Russian spies, talking about the intelligence community, talking about how me and Steve Bannon don’t like each other, and what’s Kellyanne doing? All this is just total garbage, unsourced stuff.
Listen, there is nothing wrong with background. Reporters need background information. We need to communicate with reporters and give reporters context.
All I’m saying, though, is if you are going to come out with this -- if you’re going to come out with this story that says Russian spies are talking to your campaign, my God -- I mean, you actually -- I think that you should in some cases or in most cases actually have a named source.
Look what we’ve done. We’ve repealed TPP. We have signed a coal bill to save the coal industry. We named Neil Gorsuch. We de -- put a --
WALLACE: And you know what, Reince?
PRIEBUS: -- to deregulate the federal government.
WALLACE: Wait a minute, we and all of the other cable channels have covered live the announcement of Neil Gorsuch.
WALLACE: We have covered live a lot of these other events. We have covered live an hour and 15 minutes the president’s news conference.
PRIEBUS: Hiring freeze --
WALLACE: Here’s the problem, when the president says we’re the enemy of the American people, it makes it sounds like if you are going against him, you are going against the country.
PRIEBUS: Here is the problem, Chris -- the problem is you’re right. Some of these things were covered, but you get about 10 percent coverage on the fact that you get a very successful meeting with Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister of the U.K., the prime minister of Canada --
WALLACE: We covered all of those news conference live. Everybody did.
PRIEBUS: Right. Sure, yes, for about -- yes, right. But then as soon as it was over, the next 20 hours is all about Russian spies --
WALLACE: But you don’t get to tell us what to do, Reince.
PRIEBUS: -- nothing is happening. Give me a break.
WALLACE: You don’t get to tell us what to do any more than Barack Obama did. Barack Obama whined about Fox News all the time, but I got to say, he never said that we were an enemy of the people.
PRIEBUS: Let me tell you something, he said a lot of things about Fox News, Chris. I thought you ought to go check the tape. He blamed you for a lot of things. And I’m surprised, as someone from Fox, that you forget all of the shots that he took --
WALLACE: No, he took the shots. And we didn't like it. And, frankly, we don't like this either, because, you know -- but he never went as far as President Trump has and that’s what’s concerning because it seems like he crosses a line when he talks about that we’re an enemy of the people. That is concerning.
PRIEBUS: I think you should be concerned -- I think you should be concerned about mainstream news outlets that are acting like, you know, Washington daily gossip magazines instead of the way it used to be where you would get a few sources on the record -- yes, you will need some background, and maybe, yes, you will need some anonymous sources.
But to accuse an organization of being in constant contact with Russian spies is outrageous. Every day, it’s something different. It’s some other source that is absolutely untrue. Instead of talking about the things that are going on --
WALLACE: All right. Can I ask you about --
PRIEBUS: -- that you’re doing every single day.