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Trump Enjoys Going After The Press, Ex-Presidential Spokesman Says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Even before taking office, President-elect Donald Trump has redefined the presidential relationship with the media. He has verbally attacked individual reporters and has bypassed the press altogether through Twitter. Trump's new press secretary Sean Spicer says he doesn't expect that tweeting to stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN SPICER: It is absolutely fascinating. And it makes every day, every hour just unbelievable because you know that you're having a conversation with the American people, and they can have it back with him, and he's not having to put everything through the filter of the mainstream media.

MARTIN: That's something that mainstream media needs to get used to, says Ari Fleischer. He was President George W. Bush's first press secretary. And while the relationship between any press corps and the president is inherently adversarial. Fleischer says this is something new.

ARI FLEISCHER: There's a big difference between adversarial and hostile, and this is hostile. We've never seen a candidate for office and now a president-elect of the country who the press just has it in for so much. We've also never seen it be returned this much. Donald Trump particularly enjoys going after the press, and that's why I call it a double-barreled hostile relationship.

MARTIN: Trump hasn't had a press conference since his election. One has finally been announced for January 11. But beyond that, his spokesman Sean Spicer says, quote, "business as usual is over." You were the White House press secretary. It was your job to run the daily press briefings. Do you see value in them?

FLEISCHER: I do see value in the briefing, but I'd like to make two changes. One, I would take it off the air as a live event. It should be embargoed, and so it'll be less of a TV show and more of an old-fashioned actual substantive policy briefing. And then secondly, I would democratize the room. There are 750 reporters credentialed to cover the White House, and there's only 49 seats in that room. Forty-nine seats really go to the mainstream media largely. I would update that and give those seats on a rotating basis to an entirely new group of reporters in addition to the press corps - business press, foreign journalists, social media day with the left dot-coms and the right dot-coms.

MARTIN: As you know, this is a president-elect who likes to use social media - that's an understatement. And you have praised his ability to go around the press and go directly to the American people by using Twitter in particular. How will President Trump then be held accountable if what he says isn't scrutinized or challenged?

FLEISCHER: Frankly, I'm kind of stunned at how much people focus on the fact that he tweets. Every president has taken advantage of technology since time immemorial. Kind of wonder if the FDR press corps used to say, do you think Roosevelt's going to continue to use that radio thing? This is the modern world. And President Obama showed the way. He was really the first president of the social media era. He went around the White House press corps frequently, things that George W. Bush when I was there never could have done because it would have been dismissed as government propaganda. And presidents now have the ability to get a message out going around old gatekeepers. So why should Donald Trump change that?

MARTIN: I think the concern is if he were to disband the daily press briefing, or as soon as he is in office to be less likely to sit down for one-on-one interviews.

FLEISCHER: I would criticise him if he were to do that. But as his incoming press secretary Sean Spicer said, the briefing will continue. And based on Donald Trump's actions, I see no reason to believe that he would cut back from the amount of interviews he's done with the mainstream media. Now, the news conference is different. News conferences take on a pack mentality, and it really has become an aggressive game of gotcha (ph). And I blame a lot of that on live TV and on press bias, but I would not hold regular news conferences if I were Donald Trump or really any anybody. But they do need to have one-on-one regular interviews with hard-hitting reporters.

MARTIN: What's the role of a press secretary in a Trump administration in which the president will say what he wants to whomever he wants whenever he wants on Twitter maybe even while the press secretary's doing a briefing?

FLEISCHER: Yeah, I don't think it's very much different from the role of press secretary in prior administrations. It's to take questions when the president is not or cannot and elaborate on what the president is thinking, to explain what the president is thinking. I think it's more challenging with Donald Trump than any previous press secretary because of Donald Trump's reliance on Twitter, and Donald Trump's just letting it zing when he wants to. But as always, the trick for a press secretary and the most important job is to know what the president is thinking. So regardless of the form in which the president says something or tweets it, the press secretary can elaborate on it.

MARTIN: Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, thanks so much for your time.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.