President Ronald Reagan often was referred to as the “Great Communicator.”
President Donald Trump may well go down in history as one of the better “Manipulators” among the 45 U. S. presidents.
Publisher of The New York Times learned that lesson when he agreed to what appears to have been an “off the record” meeting with President Trump on July 20. 2018.
On July 29, President Trump tweeted he had a “very good and interesting” meeting with A. G. Sulzberger, the 37-year-old publisher who was appointed last January, succeeding his father as publisher, who succeeded his father as publisher.
President Trump Tweeted that he and Sulzberger had discussed “the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media and how that Fake News has morphed into the phrase, ‘Enemy of the People.’ Sad!”
In a statement issued two hours after the tweet, Sulzberger said he accepted Trump’s invitation for the meeting to raise his concerns about the president’s “deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.” The publisher added, “I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.”
Journalists generally do not like “off the record” meetings. “Off the record” precludes you from doing your job, which is reporting news. I used to walk out of White House press meetings when the Administrative spokesperson switched from “not for attribution,” which meant we could write about it but not attribute it, to “off the record.”
President Trump is very good in his manipulation of the media, for good and bad.
I remember when I was an editor in New York City one of my reporters came into my office with a broad smile and said, “Guess who I just got off the phone with? Donald Trump!” She had written a news article critical of him. Trump spent some 20 minutes criticizing the article and then ended his conversation with her by saying, “Thank you for writing about me.”
Trump was very smart in how he handled that. If he had called me to complain about my reporter, he would have made an enemy of her. By calling her directly, he showed respect for her.
Manipulation is just one of the tools in the toolbox on any leader. Some years after George Washington’s death, John Adams wrote that Washington “…if not the greatest President, he was the best Actor of the Presidency we have ever had.”
Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, was one of the greatest manipulators among presidents.
As Secretary of State under George Washington, he financed a newspaper critical of the Washington’s policies with his Secretary of State budget. When Washington discovered this, he never spoke with Jefferson again.
President historian Ron Chernow wrote that Jefferson would shrink from open confrontation, resorting instead to indirect and sometimes devious methods of dealing with disagreements. “He could show a courtly charm in conversation and was especially seductive in small groups …At the same time his mild manner belied his fierce convictions and relentless desire to have his view prevail. The idealism of his writings and his utopian faith in the people did not quite prepare his foes for his taste for political intrigue.”
In my book “Mama’s Boy Presidents: Why Do We Keep Electing Them,” I rely on theories based on Attachment Psychology to designate which presidents were early on attached to their mothers and which were attached to their fathers. Characteristic of so-called Mama’s Boys is a management style that often relies on manipulation. Daddy’s Boys tend to be more forthright.
It might surprise those who consider Donald Trump the Alpha Male president, but in studying him to include in a new edition of my book on presidents Trump tends to be a Mama’s Boy desirous of being a Daddy’s Boy.
Stanford Erickson is a regular contributor to Vero Communiqué. He lives in Vero Beach, FL and was a formerly a reporter for Hearst, bureau chief for McGraw- Hill in Washington, DC and editor in chief or Knight-Ridder in NYC. Mr. Erickson is a 40-year member of the National Press Club.
[Mr. Erickson’s comments are his own and do not reflect the position(s) of Vero Communiqué.]
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