Why Donald Trump releasing his full '60 Minutes' interview is a major media miscalculation

Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic
·5 min read

After teasing it for a day or two, on Thursday President Donald Trump released an unedited version of the upcoming “60 Minutes” interview he did with Lesley Stahl.

Why?

Trump spent most of the week complaining that the interview, which is scheduled to air during Sunday night’s episode, was “FAKE” and “BIASED."

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.

In fact in the video, which Trump posted on his Facebook page, Stahl comes off as patient, if probing — exactly what she is supposed to do, in other words. Trump, on the other hand, is defensive and whiny, as if he were offended to have to talk about his record as president in anything but the most glowing terms. It’s a bad look, but it probably won’t hurt him much, if at all.

It’s hard to see how it’ll help him, though.

Lesley Stahl didn't treat Trump unfairly

Instead it's just more of the same. His base of supporters is likely to find the aggrieved tone Trump adopts from the start as more proof of media bias. They are a choir that likes being preached to perhaps more than any other — if Trump says he’s being treated unfairly, they’re not going to argue the point. They’re going to agree.

Yet Stahl didn’t treat him unfairly. She did what reporters do, or what they’re supposed to do: She asked tough questions and when Trump was evasive or lied in his answers, she pressed him.

President Trump cut short an interview with '60 Minutes' correspondent Lesley Stahl and threatened to leak the session before its Oct. 25 airing.
President Trump cut short an interview with '60 Minutes' correspondent Lesley Stahl and threatened to leak the session before its Oct. 25 airing.

“You’re so negative,” Trump said of Stahl at one point. This is his typical tactic with women who press him for answers, as Savannah Guthrie did during last week's town hall. Not so with men, like Chris Wallace and Jonathan Swan.

Unedited interviews are always kind of a mess; it's likely Trump will actually come off better in the edited version that airs Sunday. Jumping the gun seems unwise.

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CBS News wasn’t happy, as you might imagine.

How CBS News responded to the release

“The White House's unprecedented decision to disregard their agreement with CBS News and release their footage will not deter '60 Minutes' from providing its full, fair and contextual reporting which presidents have participated in for decades,” the network said in a statement. (The White House taped the interview, as well, but had agreed to use it for archival purposes.)

When talking about his COVID-19 response, Trump trotted out his usual talking points, but again turned the answer toward Stahl’s line of questioning: “We’ve done a good job,” he said. “We’ve done maybe a great job. What we haven’t done a good job in is convincing people like you, because you’re really quite impossible to convince.”

President Donald Trump and CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl appear during an interview for '60 Minutes'.
President Donald Trump and CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl appear during an interview for '60 Minutes'.

You know what convinces reporters? Facts. That seemed to be lost on Trump at several points in the interview. He kept going at Stahl for not reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop “scandal,” and accused her of protecting him.

Stahl explained why most reputable media outlets haven’t reported on the Hunter Biden story.

“This is ’60 Minutes,’” she said. “We can’t put on things we can’t verify.’”

That notion seemed lost on Trump, who often seems disgruntled with questioning when he’s removed from the protective Fox News bubble he prefers. Who knows what he thought he would be asked in the interview? (Biden sat for one with Norah O’Donnell that is also scheduled to air Sunday.)

More than anything, Trump's walkout makes him look whiny

The interview began with Stahl asking Trump if he was ready for some tough questions.

No, Trump said. In that instance, he wasn’t lying. Just be fair, he said.

Stahl was.

Trump’s tactic was to attack both the media in general and Stahl in particular, as well as Biden whenever possible. This led to a funny exchange, in which he said, “I saw your interview with Joe Biden.”

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“I never did a Joe Biden interview,” Stahl said. (Trump then said he meant a “60 Minutes” interview.)

Despite Trump’s criticisms, Stahl continued to hold Trump accountable. At one point she finally asked Trump a question someone should have asked a long time ago. When Trump started talking about Hillary Clinton deleting emails, Stahl said, “Why is this still an issue? She ran last time.”

Amen.

The much ballyhooed walkout by Trump at the end wasn’t particularly dramatic, but it was, again, whiny.

“You brought up a lot of subjects that were inappropriately brought up,” he said.

Like his COVID-19 response? The division in the country? The economy? The tenor of his attacks on opponents?

They might have been uncomfortable for Trump, but they were far from inappropriate. They were just what they should have been — tough and fair.

That doesn't make what he did look like walking out. It makes it look like running away.

Bill Goodykoontz is the media critic at the Arizona Republic, where this column originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter: @goodyk.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Why Donald Trump releasing his '60 Minutes' interview is a big mistake