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Trump Uses Media Pool Spray To His Communication Advantage

Mar 13, 2017
Originally published on March 13, 2017 7:49 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And President Trump's Twitter habits are pretty well known. But NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has noticed that Trump has a tendency to make news in another way that's abbreviated.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It's called a pool spray. The president has a meeting or signed something, and for a few moments, a small group of reporters known as the pool is led into the room to document the scene. Sometimes, the president offers a few words or just some camera-ready handshakes. And then eventually, there's the cue to leave.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you all very much.

KEITH: But that's also the cue for reporters to shout questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you, press.

(CROSSTALK)

KEITH: President Trump's first Oval Office pool spray came shortly after the election, when he met with President Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Mr. President, it was great honor being with you.

KEITH: And as reporters shouted questions, Obama offered Trump some advice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: Here's a good rule. Don't answer a question when they just start yelling at you. Come on, guys.

KEITH: It's advice President Trump didn't take. In his first full working day in the White House, Trump had multiple pool sprays and twice responded to shouted questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When might you begin to renegotiate NAFTA?

TRUMP: At the appropriate time.

KEITH: Cable networks began broadcasting these short appearances in full. And Trump delivered. The next day, he made news with his answer to a shouted question about when he would announce his Supreme Court pick.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We will pick a truly great Supreme Court justice. But I'll be announcing it sometime next week.

KEITH: It's become routine. Press Secretary Sean Spicer says the president likes the format.

SEAN SPICER: The president recognizes that it's an opportunity for him to explain how he's enacting his agenda of change.

KEITH: Pool sprays are to presidential communication what Twitter is to online prose. President Clinton preferred press conferences. President Bush liked pool sprays. Bill Burton was a deputy press secretary for President Obama, a president who liked long-form interviews and avoided making news in pool sprays. But Burton says they fit Trump's style.

BILL BURTON: For reporters to come into the room, pay attention to him, take his picture and listen to the short bit of comments that he has to say, I think works perfectly for him.

KEITH: This made what happened last week all the more pronounced. After a series of early morning tweets accusing President Obama of wiretapping him without any evidence, President Trump went quiet. He signed his new travel ban in private. And when there was an opportunity for shouted questions, Trump simply didn't respond. When I pointed out this drought to Spicer, he responded by email Friday night saying I was reading too much into it. Saturday afternoon, Trump had lunch with several members of his Cabinet at his golf course in Virginia. And as the pool was being ushered out of the dining room, Trump answered a question about an intruder who had jumped the fence at the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: The Secret Service did a fantastic job. It was a troubled person.

KEITH: The drought was over. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.