NEW YORK — The drama started early at Donald Trump’s first news conference as president-elect.
Trump, who spent much of his US presidential campaign bashing the news media for what he called unfair coverage, kicked off with uncharacteristic praise for the New York Times and other media organizations.
The reason? The Times, and others, had held back on reporting salacious and unsubstantiated allegations that suggested Trump could be blackmailed by Russia.
The praise did not last long. For those organizations that he said had crossed the line — BuzzFeed, which released an unsubstantiated memo about the allegations, and CNN, which was one of the first to report on the broader story — he delivered a scathing critique.
“You are fake news,” Trump said to CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, calling his organization terrible and declining to take a question from him despite Acosta’s several attempts to shout one.
That dust-up was one of many theatrical moments at the first news conference in six months for Trump, a businessman and reality TV star-turned-politician who enters the White House on January 20.
There was turbulence even before Trump took the lectern in the lobby of his Manhattan tower. The president-elect’s team had set out about 80 chairs, not nearly enough for the roughly 250 journalists who were present.
Trump’s team created some suspense when beforehand four aides walked to the front of the room and placed thick stacks of paper on a table. Trump would get to that later.
When the president-elect arrived, a group of staff and supporters standing in a space near the elevators in the Trump Tower lobby applauded. That group would act as Trump’s personal cheering section during the news conference, clapping and whooping whenever he made points they liked. The press does not normally cheer the president at such events.
At the start, Trump stood off to the side with his three oldest children while he had two introductions — one from his incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, and one from his running mate, Mike Pence. Both slammed media organizations for reporting the unsubstantiated allegations.
CNN later released a statement about its reporting.
“CNN’s decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different from BuzzFeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos,” it said. “The Trump team knows this.”
BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti in a memo to employees defended the decision to publish the dossier, referring to it as a “newsworthy document.”
Trump stood in front of a row of American flags, using a presidential and patriotic display as a backdrop.
As the questioning grew more intense, he brought up an attorney, who gave a long and detailed pitch on live television about how the business owner would attempt to avoid conflicts of interest.
The lawyer’s presentation acted as a brief intermission to the frenzied pace.
Once Trump was ready to end, he pointed to the stacks of paper by the lectern. He said he was unsure it had been properly explained that they represented some of the paperwork he had filled out to begin placing his business in the hands of his sons so long as he is president, a maximum of eight years.
If after eight years of running his business he found the sons had not done a good job, he would tell them, “You’re fired,” Trump said, using a catchphrase from “The Apprentice,” the reality TV show he hosted.