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Trump Summons TV Figures for Private Meeting, and Lets Them Have It

It had all the trappings of a high-level rapprochement: President-elect Donald J. Trump, now the nation's press critic in chief, inviting the leading anchors and executives of television news to join him on Monday for a private meeting of minds.

On-air stars like Lester Holt, Charlie Rose, George Stephanopoulos and Wolf Blitzer headed to Trump Tower for the off-the-record gathering, typically the kind of event where journalists and politicians clear the air after a hard-fought campaign.

Instead, the president-elect delivered a defiant message: You got it all wrong.

Mr. Trump, whose antagonism toward the news media was unusual even for a modern presidential candidate, described the television networks as dishonest in their reporting and shortsighted in missing the signs of his upset victory. He criticized some in the room by name, including CNN's president, Jeffrey A. Zucker, according to multiple people briefed on the meeting who were granted anonymity to describe confidential discussions.

It is not unusual for journalists to agree to off-the-record sessions with prominent politicians, including President Obama, as a way to gain insights and develop relationships.

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But after details of Mr. Trump's hectoring leaked on Monday in The New York Post, it seemed the meeting was being used as a political prop, especially after Trump-friendly news outlets trumpeted the session as a take-no-prisoners move by a brave president-elect.

CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer (C) exits the elevator at Trump Tower on another day of meetings scheduled for President-elect Donald Trump on November 21, 2016 in New York.
Eduardo Munoz | AFP | Getty Images
CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer (C) exits the elevator at Trump Tower on another day of meetings scheduled for President-elect Donald Trump on November 21, 2016 in New York.

"Trump Slams Media Elite, Face to Face," blared the Drudge Report. "Trump Eats Press," wrote Breitbart News.

Those curious to hear more of what the president-elect had to say at the closed-door session were out of luck: Although more than two dozen prominent journalists attended, many declined to comment because they had agreed to keep the proceedings off the record.

Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to Mr. Trump, described the meeting in more tempered terms. "It was very cordial, very productive, very congenial," Ms. Conway told reporters at Trump Tower. "It was also very candid and very honest."

"From my own perspective," she added, "it's great to hit the reset button."

Still, the encounter crystallized concerns that Mr. Trump, emboldened by his victory, may refuse to abide the traditional dynamic of a president and the journalists who cover him, a naturally adversarial relationship that is nevertheless based on some level of mutual trust.

Some media critics questioned why the television networks, which granted Mr. Trump hundreds of hours of free exposure during the campaign, would agree to Monday's terms. "They learned *nothing* over past 18 months of covering Trump," tweeted Erik Wemple of The Washington Post.

Television is of particular interest to Mr. Trump, who is a keen watcher of morning shows and this past weekend tweeted his displeasure at being mocked on an episode of "Saturday Night Live."

Coverage of Mr. Trump increased ratings and revenue at news networks, even as some executives conceded that, early in the race, the president-elect was granted too much free exposure. By the end of the campaign, Mr. Trump seemed to turn on certain networks and television journalists, in particular CNN, prompting supporters to chant anti-media slogans.

Two people briefed on Monday's meeting said that Mr. Trump seemed well versed in the networks' ratings increase during the election and did not hesitate to bring the subject up.

Mr. Trump was to meet with representatives of several news organizations this week, including The New York Times. But early Tuesday morning, he wrote in a Twitter post that the meeting had been canceled, saying that the conditions of the meeting "were changed at the last moment." A spokeswoman for The Times said the paper was not aware the meeting was canceled until reading Mr. Trump's tweets.

Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump's chief of staff; Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump's daughter; and Ms. Conway were expected to accompany the president-elect to The Times,.

The meeting had been organized at the request of Mr. Trump's team, Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for The Times, said on Monday. Mr. Trump was expected to speak on the record with Times reporters and columnists; there is also a short off-the-record session planned.

As a candidate, and now as president-elect, Mr. Trump has frequently attacked The Times, establishing the paper as a top target in his continuing feud with the media. Mr. Trump often refers to the "failing'' New York Times and has threatened to sue the company for libel over an article about two women who accused him of touching them inappropriately years earlier.

The Times angered Mr. Trump with some of its unflattering coverage during the campaign, including reports on his taxes, his treatment of women and his legal troubles with Trump University.

Since being elected president, he has blasted out more criticisms, using Twitter to disparage the newspaper's coverage and to claim it had lost "thousands of subscribers because of their very poor and highly inaccurate coverage of the 'Trump phenomena.'" (The Times disputed that assertion, saying that it had added 41,000 net paid subscriptions for its news products in the week after the election.)

John Koblin contributed reporting.

(Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBC and CNBC.)