President Trump's clash with Lesley Stahl escalates long campaign against reporters

Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
·5 min read

Former Vice President Joe Biden may be President Donald Trump's ballot opponent, but in the days before the election, the president increasingly is ramping up his campaign against the news media.

"60 Minutes" and its correspondent, Lesley Stahl, are the latest targets of presidential ire, as Trump walked out early from a Tuesday interview and followed up with tweets trying to shame a maskless Stahl, and then threatened to post his video of the interview ahead of the CBS news magazine's broadcast Sunday (7:30 EDT/7 PDT).

Since taking office, Trump has continually run against the media, deriding it as a monolithic "enemy of the people" to the ecstatic cheers of his supporters. However, as the campaign hurtles toward the finish he has increasingly singled out individual reporters and debate moderators for attack.

Abrupt ending: Donald Trump leaves contentious '60 Minute' interview with Lesley Stahl, goes on Twitter attack

President Donald Trump speaks during an NBC News Town Hall with moderator Savannah Guthrie, at Perez Art Museum Miami, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Miami.
President Donald Trump speaks during an NBC News Town Hall with moderator Savannah Guthrie, at Perez Art Museum Miami, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Miami.

Stahl joins a number of media representatives who have felt the president's wrath in just the past three weeks. The list includes:

Chris Wallace, a frequent target of Trump, who has compared the "Fox News Sunday" anchor unfavorably to his father, reporting legend Mike Wallace. Trump accused Wallace of teaming up with Biden against him when he moderated the chaotic first presidential debate on Sept. 29.

"Today" anchor Savannah Guthrie, who was called a "Joe Biden surrogate" by Trump's campaign after her forceful questioning of the president during a town hall last week.

• NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker, who is getting ripped by the president even before Thursday's final presidential debate. The accusation that she is "terrible & unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters" may reflect a strategy of "playing the refs" to elicit favorable treatment.

"60 Minutes" and its correspondent, Lesley Stahl, are the latest targets of presidential ire.
"60 Minutes" and its correspondent, Lesley Stahl, are the latest targets of presidential ire.

• Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason, who got pushback from the president Monday on the campaign trail in Arizona. When Mason asked Trump why he was calling Biden a criminal, the president replied: "Let me tell you something: Joe Biden is a criminal, and he's been a criminal for a long time. … And you're a criminal, and the media, for not reporting it."

Tuesday's "60 Minutes" clash may have raised the Trump-media conflict to a new level. The president was speaking to Stahl for a piece scheduled to run on Sunday's "60 Minutes Election Edition." CBS Evening News anchor Norah O'Donnell is interviewing Democratic nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for the special.

Forty-five minutes into the interview, the president abruptly ended the session earlier than scheduled, saying "60 Minutes" had been given enough time, according to two people familiar with the incident. Trump did not return for a scheduled joint interview with his running mate, Vice President Mike Pence.

CBS News confirmed the abbreviated session during a longer campaign report that opened Tuesday's edition of the CBS Evening News, as anchor O'Donnell said "the president cut short an interview with" Stahl.

Some time after the interview session with Stahl, the president tweeted a six-second video snippet of a maskless Stahl, apparently in the White House, talking to two men wearing masks in an apparent attempt to shame the CBS correspondent. (Stahl recovered from her own bout with COVID-19 in the spring.)

"Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes not wearing a mask in the White House after her interview with me. Much more to come," tweeted Trump, who contracted COVID-19 last month, rarely wears a mask in public and has questioned the usefulness of masks.

As is often the case with the president, it didn't take long for him to deliver on the ominous "much more to come" promise. Less than two hours later, he threatened to post his recording of the interview ahead of "60 Minutes."

"I am pleased to inform you that, for the sake of accuracy in reporting, I am considering posting my interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, PRIOR TO AIRTIME! This will be done so that everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about...," he tweeted.

In a follow-up tweet, he pivoted to his frequent complaint that Biden gets preferential treatment from news organizations: "...Everyone should compare this terrible Electoral Intrusion with the recent interviews of Sleepy Joe Biden!"

"60 Minutes" responded to the president's tweet about potentially posting interview video during Tuesday's CBS Evening News report. Correspondent Ed O'Keefe quoted the news magazine: " '60 Minutes' says the White House agreed to shoot that video only for its archives and that the (news magazine) has a history of interviewing presidential candidates and asking important questions in the run-up to elections."

If Trump does air his recording of the interview before "60 Minutes" does, it may be an unplanned dress rehearsal for what some pundits predict could be his plan in the event of a November election loss: the start-up of a Trump TV network.

Contributing: David Jackson

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Trump rips media targets, from Chris Wallace to Lesley Stahl