Surveys have suggested that he’s the most polarizing president in the history of the United States, but Donald Trump was known as a somewhat controversial figure long before he ever set foot in the Oval Office. Trump wasn’t hired as the host of NBC’s The Apprentice on his business acumen alone — if the show was going to work, the network needed someone that wasn’t afraid of a little confrontation. Of course, when people tune in to watch a reality TV show they know full well they’re likely to see some drama unfold (it’s the main reason reality TV fans love the genre so much), though this isn’t the kind of behavior that viewers expect from presidential press conferences.
In the Trump-era, heated exchanges and awkward interviews have become par for the course, and the 45th President of the United States isn’t showing any signs of easing up on his critics in the press. Trump has made it perfectly clear which news outlets he doesn’t approve of, and if a reporter from one of those outlets (or anyone else, for that matter) asks him a question that he doesn’t like, the president typically lets them know it in no uncertain terms. These cringe-worthy confrontations have become increasingly common in recent years, but there’s a handful that stand out from the crowd for being particularly uncomfortable to watch. Here’s how they all went down.
Trump calls CNN’s Jim Acosta ‘a rude, terrible person’
President Trump has locked horns with numerous White House reporters since his inauguration, but none seem to get under his skin quite as often as Jim Acosta. CNN’s chief White House correspondent has clashed with the president on countless occasions, over a variety of issues. When they spoke during a now infamous press conference in November 2018, the divisive issue was the Central American migrant caravan.
« Here we go, » Trump said as Acosta began to question him on his decision to classify the group of migrants moving towards the southern border as an « invasion. » The reporter also highlighted Trumps use of footage of « migrants climbing over walls » in campaign videos. « You should let me run the country, » Trump responded. « You run CNN, and if you did it well, your ratings would be much better. » A Trump aide then attempted to take the microphone from Acosta, which became the subject of much debate — the White House accused the journalist of « placing his hands » on the young female staffer.
Acosta had his top-level press pass revoked following the confrontation, but CNN sued, alleging that the administration circulated « apparently doctored » footage of the aide incident. The White House soon relented and Acosta’s hard pass was reinstated, though the reporter is unlikely to forget the dressing down that Trump gave him. « CNN should be ashamed of itself having you work for them, » the president said. « You are a rude, terrible person. »
NBC’s Peter Alexander sticks up for Acosta
Trump’s verbal attack on Jim Acosta didn’t end with him telling the reporter that he isn’t fit to work for CNN. The president went on to reprimand Acosta over the way he treats his staff during press conferences, particularly his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. « The way you treat other people are horrible, » Trump said, shutting down Acosta’s repeated attempts to ask another question. « You shouldn’t treat people that way. »
After making sure that he’d put his point across, the president turned to NBC’s Peter Alexander for his next question. Before he asked it, however, Alexander decided to vouch for his fellow journalist, telling Trump that Acosta has always been a consummate and hard-working professional. « In Jim’s defense, I’ve traveled with him and watched him, » the NBC man said. « He’s a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us. » Trump’s response? « Well, I’m not a big fan of yours either, to be honest. … You aren’t the best. »
This probably didn’t come as much of a surprise to Alexander, considering that Trump has repeatedly bashed NBC for what he perceives as « one-sided coverage » of his administration (per Variety). The president has even openly discussed his desire to revoke NBC’s broadcast license because the network isn’t impartial enough in his opinion, though in reality this would be nigh-on impossible to achieve.
Did Yamiche Alcindor ask a ‘racist’ question?
President Trump’s tense back-and-forth with Jim Acosta and Peter Alexander received most of the media attention, but they weren’t the only reporters that the president clashed with during his press conference on November 7, 2018. PBS NewsHour‘s White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor (above left) was also present that day, intent on asking the president about his decision to use the word « nationalism » during several of his rallies in the lead up to the crucial 2018 midterm elections. Critics of the president have accused him of emboldening white nationalists with his rhetoric, but White House aides insist that all the president is trying to do is put America first.
When Alcindor brought up the nationalist issue during the highly-charged Q&A, Trump lashed out, claiming that the question was itself racist. « That’s such a racist question, » Trump said (via USA Today). « What you just said is so insulting to me. It’s a very terrible thing that you said. » The president declined to acknowledge Alcindor’s concerns about him playing directly into the hands of the so-called alt-right, choosing to declare his undying love for his country instead. « You have nationalists, you have globalists, » Trump stated. « I also love the world and don’t mind helping the world, but we have to straighten out our country first. »
He shut April Ryan down, too
April Ryan (the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks) claimed that she wasn’t looking for trouble when she stood up to deliver her question at Trump’s hot-tempered November 2018 presser, but she got it anyway. The reporter found herself in the president’s cross-hairs when she got to her feet to discuss voter suppression with him, believing that she’d been invited to stand. The trouble was, Trump hadn’t actually asked for her question, and he let her know about it.
« It was a real question, then he proceeds to tell me I’m rude, I’m hostile, » Ryan said during a subsequent appearance on The View (via ABC News). The journalist thought she had heard Trump mention « voter suppression » and saw that as a sign she was up next, but she was apparently mistaken. « I thought he was receiving my question and wanted to talk about it, and then when he sees me, he says ‘Sit down’ you know, in a very terse tone, » Ryan explained. « I was taken aback. »
Trump also added his two-cents after the fact, implying that other journalists might also end up getting banned from future press conferences if they didn’t learn how to « respect » the presidency. « You talk about somebody who’s a loser, » Trump then said, circling back to Ryan, while addressing reporters gathered outside the White House. « She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing. »
Dodging Weijia Jiang’s Kavanaugh questions
Since taking office, President Trump faced a number of hurdles, but the Brett Kavanaugh hearing was undoubtedly one of the most pivotal moments of his political career to date. Trump’s nominee to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court was of vital importance to the president’s long term strategy, so when 51-year-old psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford told The Washington Post that she’d been sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were both teenagers, it threw a major spanner in the works. According to Dr. Ford, she was « pinned » down and « groped » by Kavanaugh at a party she attended in the 1980s.
When CBS reporter Weijia Jiang attempted to ask the president about how the many allegations of sexual assault against him may have influenced his feelings about the allegations against Kavanaugh, Trump instead rambled only about the supposedly false accusations that have been made against him. When Jiang tried to steer the president back towards her original question, he said that she’d been « asking the question for 10 minutes. » Jiang then pointed out that Trump « interrupted » her original question.
Trump’s critics were quick to point out that Jiang wasn’t the only female journalist that he interrupted during this feisty September 2018 presser. According to USA Today politics reporter Christal Hayes, a reporter from U.K. media giant Sky was talked over three times when she asked the president « how it will affect women to call these sexual assault allegations a ‘con job’ by the Democrats. »
Trump’s not-so off-the-record chat with NYT
In July 2018, President Trump met with New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger to discuss the fractured relationship between the so-called fake news media and the White House. We might never have learned about what went down in that meeting had Trump not « misrepresented » Sulzberger’s words in a tweet, according to Times writer Mark Landler, implying that both men were on the same page over the issue. The commander-in-chief said that he’d had a « very good and interesting meeting, » discussing the « vast amounts of fake news being put out by the media. »
Sulzberger’s version of events differed from the president’s. The publisher claimed that addressing the president’s « deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric » was his main purpose for agreeing to the White House sit-down. « I told him that although the phrase ‘fake news’ is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists ‘the enemy of the people,' » Sulzberger stated in a written response to Trump’s tweet. « I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence. »
The meeting was apparently far more uncomfortable than Trump let on, and things soon spilled over into a confrontation on Twitter. In a lengthy rebuttal, the president said that « the media » had been « driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome » and vowed that he would « not allow our great country to be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the dying newspaper industry. »
Jake Turx catches Trump off guard
In early 2017, Trump faced some tough questions over alleged collusion with the Russian state. As of this writing, the president is still being asked those questions and probably always will be, but even back then he was sick of discussing the story with the media. During a heated February press conference, Trump turned to Jewish reporter Jake Turx, hoping for a question that didn’t involve Russia. The question wasn’t about collusion, but it was equally as difficult for the president to answer.
Turx wasn’t exactly well-known at the time, but Trump had gotten to know him during the campaign trail and there was a « mutual understanding » between them, according to the up-and-coming reporter. « He trusted me, » Turx told Al Jazeera. But when the president called on him (« Watch how friendly he is, » Trump said into the mic), Turx put their apparent rapport to one side and quizzed the president over a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the States.
« How [is] the government … planning to take care of it? » Turx asked, infuriating Trump. « I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life, » the president said before calling the journalist a liar: « He was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. » A baffled Turx tried to explain that the question wasn’t an attack on Trump, but he was told to take a seat and be quiet.
The beef with Megyn Kelly
Jim Acosta isn’t the only member of the media that President Trump battled on more than once occasion. According to ABC, the president’s long-running beef with Megyn Kelly began at the first Republican presidential debate of 2015, when she was still at Fox News. « You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals, » Kelly told Trump, who was clearly irritated by her line of questioning.
Trump went after Kelly hard in days that followed, taking to Twitter to laugh at how Kelly had « bombed » during the debate. The president also called her out when speaking to CNN, and these particular comments rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way. « There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever, » Trump said. The president was forced to clarify his comments, explaining that when he said « wherever » he actually meant Kelly’s nose.
Kelly made more headlines in 2016 when she referred to the president as a « sexual predator, » but nowadays she hasn’t really got the platform to attack Trump. She moved to NBC after her Trump-bashing made her the flavor of the month, but forcing a Fox News provocateur onto a far more liberal audience was a gamble that didn’t pay off. Kelly’s Today show was axed in 2018 after she defended the wearing of controversial « blackface » Halloween costumes, so it appears as though the president may have had the last laugh on this occasion.
That ‘ridiculous’ interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer
Long before Trump was president of the United States, the reality TV star and business tycoon made waves when he suggested that the country’s president at the time wasn’t even born on American soil. To be president you must be a natural born American citizen, a rule that has become increasingly unpopular in pro-immigration circles. Trump is a big believer in this clause, however, and his assertion that Barack Obama was born outside of the U.S. made for some pretty uncomfortable confrontations with reporters.
The most awkward of the lot has to be Trump’s 2012 sit-down with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. The two became involved in a charged back-and-forth over the birther issue, which « eventually devolved into both men saying the other sounded ‘ridiculous,' » THR reported. According to the Hollywood trade, Trump told Blitzer that there was a good reason Obama didn’t like to discuss his place of birth with the media, who (in the future president’s eyes, at least) were failing to report the story properly. « It’s hitting [Obama] very close to home, » Trump told the veteran journalist. « Frankly, if you would report [the birth certificate issue] accurately, I think you’d probably get better ratings than you’re getting, which are pretty small. »
Trump eventually admitted that he’d been mistaken about Obama’s place of birth in 2016, the year of his historic election victory. « President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period, » Trump conceded during a campaign event.
That ‘creepy’ interview with BBC journalist Steph McGovern
Like CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, BBC presenter Steph McGovern was given the opportunity to speak with Trump in 2012, and she later revealed how the star of The Apprentice had been « creepy » with her on the day of the interview. McGovern explained exactly what happened when she appeared as a guest host on BBC satirical news show Have I Got News For You in 2018. According to McGovern, Trump told her that she was « so beautiful » and said that he was « going to leave the room to make myself look better, because if we do this interview now everyone is just going to be staring at you and not listening to me. »
Recalling the experience clearly brought back some unpleasant memories for McGovern, though she was able to laugh about it. She pretended (at least, we think she was pretending) to gag as she told her guests the story, which boiled down to Trump not respecting her as a professional. « Because he thought that would disarm me, » she said. « He thought as a female journalist, that was the best thing to say to me rather than: ‘Oh, I watched your piece on, I dunno, mobile phone insurance last week. »‘ McGovern apparently told the president that his chat-up lines weren’t very good, which must have only added to the awkwardness of the whole thing.