NEW YORK ― For Donald Trump, apparently the only thing worse than negative coverage in The New York Times is not being covered at all.
“Donald Trump is mad at me,” Times columnist Maureen Dowd mentioned last week. “He thinks I’ve treated him ‘very badly.’ But he returned my call on Friday night on his way to a rally in Colorado and agreed to do a lightning round on the Democratic convention.”
Trump ― who in recent months has called the Times “failing,” “sick,” “a disgusting fraud,” “a joke,” and “unfair and biased” ― kept the insults flowing this week. On Monday, he suggested adding the paper to the campaign’s running media blacklist because of its “dishonest” coverage.
“Every story is bad,” Trump told a crowd in Columbus, Ohio. “Sometimes I’ll say, ‘Oh, great, this was so good, I’m going to have a great story tomorrow in The New York Times.’ You know, they’ll call. Always turns out to be a disaster. It’s so dishonest.”
That night, Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Times journalists “don’t know how to write good.” And Wednesday night, Trump’s campaign honored the Times with its “Media Bias of the Day” designation.
“With many in the media continuing to do everything in their power to publish anti-Trump articles on their front pages while suppressing anti-Clinton stories, the Trump campaign is going to begin calling out biased and unfair coverage,” read an email that included images of Times front pages stamped with the words “Media Bias Offender.”
Even as Trump repeatedly calls out the Times to the cheers of supporters and the approval of sympathetic Fox News hosts, the Republican nominee can’t stop returning Times reporters’ calls.
Last month, the paper published more than a dozen pieces featuring interviews with Trump. The candidate weighed in on a variety of topics, including plans for the Republican convention, an anti-Semitic tweet, whether he’d serve as president if elected, criticism from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “The Apprentice,” his “record of dissembling and deception” in business, his similarities to President Richard Nixon, the speechwriter behind Melania Trump’s plagiarism controversy, his own convention speech, the Democratic convention and foreign policy.
“You know, they’ll call. Always turns out to be a disaster. It’s so dishonest.”
Some of the interviews took place in the candidate’s 26th-floor office at Trump Tower, while Times reporters also met with Trump for a 45-minute interview in his Cleveland hotel suite the day before he addressed the Republican convention.
Trump’s campaign has barred nearly a dozen news organizations from receiving press credentials at events, including The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Politico, Univision and The Huffington Post. He’s recently stopped appearing on CNN, which, like the Times, has been the target of his onstage and Twitter tirades.
And yet Trump keeps talking to the Times ― including most recently for an unflattering Tuesday front-page story about his five deferments during the Vietnam War.
For decades, Trump has always been his best publicist, eager to quickly get on the phone with reporters and offer a scoop or soundbite to remain in the headlines for another day. He’s courted journalists through gossipy phone calls and letters. Trump spoke to the Times in June about his epistolary proclivities, which has included sending letters to top Times editors and the paper’s publisher.
Though Trump’s had a long and tangled relationship with New York’s tabloids, it’s the Times that’s seemed to loom largest for the Queens kid who made a gold-plated name for himself in Manhattan.
“I think he’s always had a deep fascination with The New York Times and a need to get the paper’s broader approval of his career and who he is,” said Timothy O’Brien, a former Times reporter and author of TrumpNation, a 2005 investigative biography that prompted Trump to launch an unsuccessful lawsuit against him.
“I think he’s always had a deep fascination with The New York Times and a need to get the paper’s broader approval of his career and who he is.”
O’Brien suggested Trump craves the Times’ attention because it’s his hometown newspaper, remains the “best newspaper on the planet,” and because the developer-turned-candidate recognizes the influence it has on how events are framed for readers ― and now, importantly, voters. “I think those three factors have always combined to give him a real need to be loved by The New York Times,” he said.
“With The New York Times, he wants to be seen as an emblematic New York developer who is good for the city and good for himself and represents New York at its big and brawny best,” said O’Brien, who was formerly an editor at HuffPost and currently serves as executive editor of Bloomberg View. “When the coverage paints him, accurately, as something of a cartoon character, he goes off the rails.”
During a stop last year in Greenville, South Carolina, Trump wielded a copy of the Times onstage while rebutting a radio host who was quoted suggesting that Trump wears a toupee. He then brought a woman up onstage to prove that his hair was real.
Despite such theatrics, however, Times reporters aren’t suffering from reduced access to Trump this election season.
Trump has given more than 70 interviews to the Times since announcing his candidacy in June 2015, according to a HuffPost search using Lexis-Nexis and the paper’s online archive. The June 3 issue of the Times, for instance, included three separate interviews with Trump, with a fourth appearing online later that day.
The majority of these interviews have been with political reporters covering the 2016 campaign, while some went to reporters covering business and international affairs. Trump has also spoken to the Times editorial board, Times magazine writers, and on several occasions, to Dowd, an opinion columnist.
Trump is, in fact, far more accessible to the Times than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has only given one interview this election season to a reporter from the paper’s political desk.
Clinton spoke to Times magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich for a July 2015 story, though the conversation was primarily off the record. She met with the Times editorial board before the New York primary in April and spoke twice to columnist Gail Collins. Last month, Clinton gave a “brief but at times introspective interview” to Times reporter Amy Chozick, who has exhaustively covered Clinton’s political ambitions over the past few years.
While Times reporters get more access to Trump, they also bear the brunt of his grievances. He’s given several interviews to Times reporter Maggie Haberman, while also singling her out for criticism at rallies and on Monday on Fox News. “They have people over there like Maggie Haberman, and others, they don’t write good,” Trump said. “They don’t know how to write good.”
Such public and personal swipes come straight out of Trump’s long-running media playbook. Now, as a politician, he tends to attack Times political reporters. But when he was primarily a developer, he took aim at Times writers who weren’t praising his latest building.
“You have an idiot like Paul Goldberger, who has probably the worst taste I’ve ever seen,” Trump said of the former Times architecture critic, as seen in the 1991 documentary, “Trump: What’s The Deal?”
“I get scared when he gives me a good review,” Trump said. “Because most of the time when he gives good reviews, they’re not successful buildings.”
Trump suggested there was a method to his madness in his 2004 book How to Get Rich, in which he lauded Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp as a “scholar and an authority” after the late writer wrote a positive review of Trump World Tower.
“Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn when you’ve done something worth tooting about,” Trump wrote. “And don’t believe the critics unless they love your work.”
The Trump campaign seemed to heed that advice on Wednesday night. Less than an hour before calling out the paper for its “Media Bias of the Day,” Trump’s team blasted out a more favorable Times article describing their success raising tens of millions of dollars through small donations.
Charlotte Klein contributed research.