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One Month Later, Press Failing Trump Transition Test

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From Media Matters


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In a December 2 tweet that rattled embassies on the other side of the world, President-elect Donald Trump shredded nearly four decades of U.S. diplomatic protocol when he announced he had accepted a congratulatory call from Taiwan's president. Seen as a public slight to China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province, Trump's move set off a flurry of international speculation and concern about America's relationship with China, which boasts one of the most important economies in the world.

The next day, TheNew York Times heralded the news on the front page: "Trump Muddies China Relations With Taiwan Call." What was so odd about the article -- yet what's become such a hallmark of Trump transition coverage to date -- was that the Times was unable to provide any insight into why the president-elect had made such a baffling move. "Mr. Trump's motives in taking the call, which lasted more than 10 minutes, were not clear," the paper conceded.

The Times didn't publish a single quote, either on or off the record, from any Trump aides or advisers shedding light on the diplomatic controversy. Instead, the Times was left to quote Trump's tweets on the topic of Taiwan tweets which, of course, are public and anyone can read.

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That's extraordinary. Yet sadly it's also become the norm during the one month since Election Day. It wasn't as if the Trump team, by its own standards, was being unusually secretive about Taiwan. It's simply been unusually secretive about everything, leaving the press with few avenues of information. (Remember the time, days after the election, when the caught-in-the-dark press corps didn't know where Trump was?)

Recall the Times' front page on November 22, when the paper touted as the day's biggest news offering a newly released YouTube clip from Trump in which he discussed the goals of his first 100 days. There again, locked out from any advisers with insights, reporters were reduced to transcribing the two-and-a-half-minute infomercial and treating it as breaking news (i.e., "Mr. Trump offered what he called an update on his transition").

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