A little more than a year ago, President Trump tweeted out an article on economic trends. It was from Bloomberg: “Consumer Comfort Reaches 16-Year High on U.S. Economic Optimism.”
According to the Trump Twitter Archive, that was one of only two Trump-as-president references to Bloomberg News … before Friday night, that is:
Like most presidential tweets, these were hyperbolic and free of evidence. The story begins with a scoop on Friday by the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale, who secured from a “source” several off-the-record comments that Trump had made in an interview with three Bloomberg News journalists. “Bombshell leak to Toronto Star upends NAFTA talks: In secret ‘so insulting’ remarks, Trump says he isn’t compromising at all with Canada.” For a presidential president, the story would have been an abomination, considering that Trump was quoted as saying very undiplomatic things about the Canadians, with whom the administration is in discussions on a trade deal.
“Totally on our terms” is how the president characterized the alleged power imbalance in the negotiations. And in a typically nonsensical riff, he said, “Here’s the problem. If I say no — the answer’s no. If I say no, then you’re going to put that, and it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal … I can’t kill these people.”
Those comments landed in the crevices of journalism ethics. Bloomberg’s interviewers — Bloomberg News editor in chief John Micklethwait and reporters Jennifer Jacobs and Margaret Talev — agreed to the off-the-record stipulation placed before those outbursts and didn’t publish them. Neither Dale nor the Toronto Star was a party to the off-the-record agreement, however; once they gathered the quotes from a source, they were free to publish them — with gusto. The benighted remarks by the president upended the trade talks, which resume next week.
The tweeted broadsides against Bloomberg may have confounded the president’s supporters. This particular news outlet, after all, doesn’t rank with CNN, NBC News, the New York Times and The Post as a target of presidential ire. In the interview itself, in fact, Trump expresses some affection for one of his interlocutors:
In his post-leak tweet, Trump appeared to be happy that the information had reached the public realm. “At least Canada knows where I stand!” he wrote, in part. At a speech in Charlotte, N.C., Trump returned to that theme: “These are very dishonorable people. But I said, in the end it’s OK, because at least Canada knows how I feel. So it’s fine. It’s fine. It’s true.”
In a series of tweets on Saturday, Dale felt compelled to provide a bit more detail on his sourcing arrangement, given the circumstances:
Bloomberg News Washington Bureau Chief Craig Gordon on Sunday morning felt compelled to answer, as well:
There are at least two people who know what happened here: Dale and his source. The possibilities are endless. Perhaps a renegade White House aide reached out to Dale. Perhaps Trump himself engineered this whole thing; after all, he once went so far as to masquerade as his own publicist. Perhaps someone else passed along the quotes.
What we know for sure, however, is that with a single stroke, Trump bashed the media and profiled as a hard bargainer on international trade, one of his signature campaign issues.