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The Briefing: Conway spins while Trump tweets

WASHINGTON – The old media and the new media collided over breakfast and over broadband here Wednesday, as White House aide Kellyanne Conway defended President Trump in front of reporters as the commander in chief unleashed a few more fake allegations about what he calls the "Fake News Media."

It was surreal, really: a mash-up of one of the most orderly and enlightening of Washington press venues – a Christian Science Monitor breakfast where Conway spoke – with the free-wheeling tweeting of a commander in chief who has made the media the enemy.

Not surprisingly, it made for a most unusual event for both Conway and the three dozen or so reporters gathered around her at a breakfast table in the swanky St. Regis Hotel.

Conway began by noting that she's an advocate for both the old way of doing things and the new.

"I'm somebody who believes that the more that the president engages with the press, the better," said Conway, who works for a president who has not had a full-fledged White House news conference in more than a year.

Instead of meeting reporters en masse, Trump favors one-on-one interviews – often with friendly outlets such as "Fox and Friends" – and, above all, Twitter.

Proof of that came five times during Conway's hour and 15 minutes with reporters, as Trump repeatedly steered reporters' eyes and attention away from his senior aide and toward their phones, where he was, for example, offering his analysis of Tuesday's primary elections:

To Conway, this sort of thing is nothing more than Trump leveling the playing field between politicians and the press.

"I call it the democratization of information," she said. "The president has decided that everybody should get that information at the same time and not have to wait for it to be filtered or for the evening news to come along. So I think in that way he has changed so much of the way that we communicate we receive and send information with Americans."

Conway then went on to gamely respond to questions about Trump's upcoming summit with North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un, about White House intrigue, about his tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum.

Sometimes she answered, but sometimes she filibustered, causing reporters around the table to grow tense with the worry that they wouldn't get their question in. Sensing that, perhaps, the breakfast moderator – Linda Feldmann, the Christian Science Monitor bureau chief – kept the session going long past the 45 minutes that Conway had initially set aside for it.

But the tension in the room only seemed to grow as the president kept tweeting:

For the record, the mainstream media has noted the first lady's absence from public view, and for a reason: as the Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan – former editor of The Buffalo News – noted, it's a legitimate story.

What's more, Trump's attack on the "Fake News Media" is, in fact, itself fake. A quick review of the websites of the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN reveals that such mainstream news sources have clearly reported such conspiracy theories about Melania Trump as just that – conspiracy theories – when they have mentioned them at all.

Meantime, all sorts of outlandish theories about Melania Trump's absence have floated around Trump's favored platform, Twitter, including, admittedly, one circulated by a journalist at Rolling Stone.

To hear Trump tell it, though, the mainstream media is out to get his wife.

The trouble it that tweet, though, is that it is utterly untrue. Witness what a CNBC reporter tweeted last week:

With tweets like Trump's popping up on their phones while reporters were trying to do the job of reporting on Kellyanne Conway, it was inevitable that some reporter, at some point, would bring up Trump's reckless disregard for the truth. And that's just what Shirish Date of HuffPost did.

"The president says a lot of untrue things – like every day, he says a number of things that are provably untrue," Date said.

That prompted Conway to interject: "The HuffPost certainly does," but that didn't deter Date.

"It's to the point where even when he says things that are true and would be helpful to him, we are skeptical," Date said. "Why does he do it? And has anyone on the White House said: 'Maybe that's not such a good idea? Maybe you should not do that? Maybe you should say things that are actually true?' And if not, why not?"

In response, Conway filibustered. She asked for examples of when the president said untrue things. She accused reporters of being suspicious of Trump because they didn't expect him to become president. She lashed out at what Trump refers to as "the Russian collusion hoax." She accused the Washington Post of nitpicking in many of the more than 3,000 false or misleading claims that it has found in Trump's presidential statements so far. She raged about Benghazi and President Barack Obama's false statement that people could always keep their insurance under Obamacare.

And she said of the president: "He's not serially untruthful."

But she never really answered Date's question.

Happening today

The House considers the Water Resources Development Act… Former President Bill Clinton and his co-author James Patterson discuss
their forthcoming novel, "The President is Missing," at a forum sponsored by Politics and Prose Bookstore…Washington Post Live holds a discussion called "Taking Flight: Regulating Our Skies," with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.); Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.); and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao…The National Academy of Sciences holds a workshop on "How to Transform Cancer Control"…The International Spy Museum holds a book discussion with James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, author of "Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence."

Good reads

Vox tells us that President Trump is now wrapped up in a conspiracy theory loop…The Atlantic details the allegation that a top aide to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is a tool of Russian intelligence…The New York Times says House Democrats strengthened their hand in Tuesday's primary elections…Meantime, in a conversation with Politico, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) sounds like he thinks November's election might make him majority leader…And the National Review argues that Democrats ought to say #TimesUp to Bill Clinton.

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