Washington: It was unseemly behaviour – not so much by the President-elect, as by the 200-plus reporters covering Donald Trump's first all-in press conference in about six months.
As with every other aspect of the Trump transition to power, there was anticipation about which Trump would appear before the hacks – the bovver boy they came to love and hate during the campaign or, strange as it might sound, a more presidential persona?
Breasted the lectern, Trump spewed fire and brimstone, over reports on an embarrassing if unsubstantiated intelligence dossier alleging that Moscow had compiled damaging material on Trump – including allegations of him romping with a prostitute in Moscow in 2013 and collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign in 2016.
Singling out CNN and BuzzFeed, Trump ranted bitterly, would you believe, about "fake news." Trump, whose campaign surfed to victory on a tidal wave of fake news, blithely dismissed both organisations as purveyors of "fake news."
At the same time, the President-elect slobbered over the rest of the media for not reporting the detail of the dossier.
Remember his campaign twitter storms against The New York Times and the blacklisting of the likes of The Washington Post from covering his campaign events? How he had led his rally crowds in jeering at reporters, who he branded as "the lowest form of life?"
Ha! On Wednesday Trump was loving the Times to death – even complimenting it for its coverage in the previous 24hrs on his plans to remake Obamacare. Some in the media, Trump declared, had "gone up a notch."
BuzzFeed copped it first – "as far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they are going to suffer the consequences – which they already are."
Then a remarkable standoff with CNN's Jim Acosta who attempted to ask a question – "you are fake news," Trump told him.
"Since you are attacking us, can you give us a question," Acosta called from the floor.
"I'm not going to give you a question," Trump snarled. "I'm not going to give you a question – you are fake news."
At which point it would be nice to report that the rest of the reporters shut off their recorders and refused to ask questions. Alas, they didn't miss a beat – all pressed on, yelling to draw Trump's attention to themselves, and seemingly oblivious that if CNN is being frozen out this week, it might be any or all of the rest them next week.
After 58 minutes, Trump rounded up his family and his paid staff who he had brought along to cheer and jeer, lest he get boxed in by the tenor of questions or by awkward silences; and the media slunk away.
But social media erupted.
- "Trump shouted down CNN Jim Acosta as 'fake news' then took a question from Breitbart."
- "At that point the reporters should have left, turn the cameras off and leave."
Alluding to Trump's claim that he was so popular he could shoot someone on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and get away with it, another post said: "Trump just shot Jim Acosta on the middle of Fifth Avenue and the press didn't blink."
- "The rest of the news people should have given the floor to Acosta, they were just as bad as trump in that regard. Shame!"
- "First they came for CNN…and I did not speak."
- "When trump tells Acosta to be quiet where is the outrage from the other journalists in the room? In one voice: "ANSWER THE QUESTION!"
The cleverness of the Trump attack was in lumping CNN and BuzzFeed together as if, in his eyes, they had committed the same offence – which was not the case.
CNN had a genuine scoop on Tuesday – without going into the salacious detail of the intelligence dossier, the network reported that the intelligence agencies had appended a two-page summary of the 35-page document to their Friday briefing to Trump; and further reporting the potential for Trump to be personally and financially compromised.
BuzzFeed, on the other hand, published the whole dossier – deciding that it would leave it to readers to evaluate the document.
That distinction was lost on TV's dizzier talking heads, several of whom drove home the Trump attack, by bundling CNN and BuzzFeed together as they speculated on "why would they do this".
And having shown absolutely no respect for press freedom, forgetting his campaign threats to crackdown on the media and pretending that he knew all about morality, Trump preached to the assembled hacks.
Claiming he had no intention of curbing the media, he insisted he had great respect for freedom of the press, as he told them: "I don't recommend reforms – I recommend that people have some moral compass."
The story Donald Trump's media conference degenerates into name calling first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.