Donald Trump spent almost 30 minutes on the phone with the moderators of two major cable television networks Friday morning, dropping one-liners at Hillary Clinton’s expense and repeating phrases from recent stump speeches.
The live phone interviews, on “Fox & Friends” on Fox News and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” continue a practice that breaks a long-standing industry rule and has attracted widespread criticism over the primary campaign.
During the 10-minute “Fox & Friends” interview, Trump said Clinton had, “no imagination,” is “absolutely dumb,” and wanted to give her husband a job in her administration “so she could keep an eye on him.”
And in the “Morning Joe” interview that lasted 17 minutes, Trump talked over moderator Mika Brzezinski, the liberal voice on the show, as she attempted to press him about his “trigger-happy” tweets. “Let me tell you, the mindset of a weak Hillary Clinton, which is four more years of Obama, is not going to do it for our country, Mika,” he said.
To be sure, a politician in a tight campaign will use any opportunity to strike at an opponent on television. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is not exempt. On CNN Thursday night — in a face-to-face studio appearance — Clinton said Trump was “unmoored,” “divisive and dangerous” and not fit to be president.
But the major networks have provided Trump a disproportionate share of TV time. A study by the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America found that Trump appeared on the five Sunday morning political talk shows 65 times from the start of 2015 to March 27 of this year, more than any other presidential candidate. Clinton appeared 17 times and Sen. Bernie Sanders 58.
And many of the interviews were over the phone, a practice industry insiders frown upon except in breaking news. Phone interviews don’t provide a lot of visual interest or physical clues — while Trump’s disembodied voice was broadcast on “Fox & Friends” Friday, viewers watched moderator Ainsley Earhardt fidget with the hem of her skirt. Phone interviews also make it harder to ask follow-up questions or to tell if the interviewee is getting coached, the Associated Press reported in March .
Trump didn’t need much coaching for the questions in Friday’s Fox News interview. It opened with full readouts of Trump’s morning tweets, which Earhardt followed with, “Why is this resonating with so many voters?”
Then Brian Kilmeade asked, “Have you met with military advisers who have told you, specifically, how to get rid of ISIS quickly?” prompting a recitation of the “many, many” prominent military thinkers Trump said he has met with.
And when Trump said Clinton was “dumb” to criticize a Trump policy proposal, Steve Doocy’s followed up with: “Why is it dumb?”
During the period of the Media Matters study, the five Sunday morning shows had allowed Trump to be interviewed by phone a total of 30 times. But none of the other four remaining presidential candidates at the time — Clinton, Sanders, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich — had been interviewed by phone over the same period.
Some moderators have held out. Fox News Sunday has not done a Trump phone interview, according to the Media Matters study. Host Chris Wallace told the organization in August that he avoids phone interviews, especially with presidential candidates, because it cedes them too much control.
“We are not a call-in radio show, we are a Sunday talk show and he is a presidential candidate — do an interview on camera,” Wallace said.
After widespread criticism from media critics at NPR and The Baltimore Sun among others, some news organizations said they would discontinue the practice. “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd told The New York Times in March that he would stop allowing Mr. Trump to do prescheduled interviews by phone.
But Friday’s broadcasts show that when Trump calls, plenty of moderators are still going to answer.