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Reporter Jonathan Karl on Trump's relationship with the media


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: President Trump's complicated relationship with the press has been on full display for weeks at his administration's daily coronavirus briefings.

He sometimes seeks out reporters he deems friendly, while going toe-to-toe with those he accuses of treating him unfairly.

As ABC News' chief White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl has a close-up view of this administration, which he writes about in his new book, "Front Row at the Trump Show."

And Jon Karl joins us now.

Thank you for joining us on the "NewsHour," Jon.

Let me ask you first to put on your hat as president of the White House Correspondents Association. What do you say to those who look at the briefings and say they have become as much about politics as they have about information? What does that mean as a challenge for reporters?

Jonathan Karl: You have daily briefings with the president sometimes speaking for -- holding forth for up to two hours with reporters in that room.

There clearly has been a political message, as well as a really important public health message. So I think, Judy, there's really two ways to look at this. One, should these briefings be carried live from beginning to end by the various networks?

The second question is, should we, as White House reporters, be covering them?

The second question, to me, is a very easy one. We have to be there. We have access to the president. We have access to the vice president, who is the head of the Coronavirus Task Force. We have access to the top public health officials. These are important -- we have important questions.

I think there is information that comes out of this -- out of these briefings that is very important.

But let's face it, there's a lot of politics here. There has been a lot of disinformation that has come out as well. So it is our duty as reporters and, frankly, as networks to put context and to correct misinformation.

And whether or not they're carried live, I think that's a legitimate debate that should be held -- done in newsrooms at all of the networks.

Judy Woodruff: Do you have a view about whether they should be carried live, or livestreamed, which is what news organizations do?

Jonathan Karl: It is not simply tracking the ins and outs of politics.

This is essential -- people want essential information for how to deal with this crisis, how to keep themselves safe, how to keep our families safe.

So, you know, I think it's going to be a pretty tough decision to say no live coverage whatsoever. There's clearly an appetite. And you can see that with the large numbers of people that are watching these briefings.

Judy Woodruff: The president, as you know, Jon, has gone after a number of reporters, including our own Yamiche Alcindor. We're proud of the way she's conducted herself.

What about when he's gone after you and others? I mean, how should -- how should reporters process this?

Jonathan Karl: The president has made some outrageous attacks on her, has responded in strange ways to perfectly legitimate questions by attacking her personally.

And I think that what Yamiche has done is what I have done -- I have tried to do as well, which is, don't take the bait. This is not about us and the president. This is about trying to get real information out of this administration, trying to hold the president accountable, trying to ask pertinent questions that people want to know, especially during this time.

But I think that the danger here, when he attacks -- the reason -- one of the reasons why he attacks us, Judy, is because he wants people to see us as his opposition. He has been explicit about this. He has said, the media is the opposition party.

So, if he gets people to believe that, then he -- as he's told us, he told Lesley Stahl famously in 2016, they won't believe -- they won't believe it when you do negative stories about me.

So, we have to be careful in responding to not take the bait and not to turn this into a battle between us and the president, because that is not what it is.

Judy Woodruff: So, is there a proper response for that on the part of the press, when that is the goal of the president?

Jonathan Karl: The proper response is to keep asking the questions, regardless of whether or not they're going to draw personal attacks from the commander in chief, regardless of whether or not he is going to pop off at a press conference.

We ask our questions. We do our reporting. We don't take it personally, which, by the way, is not easy sometimes. Some of these attacks have been deeply offensive.

But I think that they don't matter in the scheme of things. It doesn't matter if the president calls me a name. As Yamiche knows, it doesn't matter if the president's going to try to talk over her. She will hold her ground and continue to ask her questions, and so will I.

Judy Woodruff: You, Jonathan, have covered this president since the early 1990s. And you write about that in the book. You were a reporter in New York. You have known him a long time.

Is this the same person with the same approach to the truth, to the facts that you knew then that he is now?

Jonathan Karl: Yes, I had my first meeting with Donald Trump way back in 1994.

And it was a phenomenal set of circumstances where I basically just cold-called him, the general number to the Trump Organization, and pitched a story. He got back to me within an hour. I was a nobody. I was a junior reporter for The New York Post. I had been on the job for just a few months. He had no idea who I was.

But he welcomed me in, treated me to this whole up-and-down tour of Trump Tower at a time when Michael Jackson was having his honeymoon there with Lisa Marie Presley. And it was this crazy paparazzi story in New York.

He brought me in.

But I'll tell you, in some ways, he has changed not at all. As a matter of fact, Judy, if you don't mind, I'm going to show you a picture from that day when I first met him. This was in Trump Tower.

Judy Woodruff: Huh.

Jonathan Karl: It's me and Donald Trump.

And I had lost this picture. And it was in a box in the basement for about two decades. When he became president, I had pulled it out. And I look at it now, and I see almost exactly the same guy. He's got the red tie that's a little too long, the same suit, the same grin, the same -- the hair is a little bit different, not much.

And the attitude is almost exactly the same. Back then, the thing that he seemed to want to do the most was to make himself the center of the story, which is why he invited some unknown reporter in to talk to him, because it was a chance to be a part of what was a very big story in New York at the time.

And now that's the way he is now. He sees things in almost exactly the same way. And his personality, I think his style has actually changed, remarkably different, although I certainly had no idea that that guy that I met 26 years ago would go on to become president.

Judy Woodruff: Jonathan Karl.

The book is "Front Row at the Trump Show."

Jon Karl, thank you so much for joining us.

Jonathan Karl: Thank you, Judy.

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