After more than five decades on the air, 60 Minutes remains the top-rated news program on network television, a desired Sunday night perch for celebrities promoting a new movie, authors publicizing a new book and, yes, presidential candidates looking to clinch an election.But for Donald Trump, it seems to have been a triggering experience.
According to multiple published reports, Trump was interviewed by longtime co-anchor Lesley Stahl for what was scheduled to be a two-part segment: The first, a one-on-one with Stahl; the second, a joint conversation with Mike Pence, his vice president and current running mate. But 45 minutes into the first segment, Trump reportedly looked up at his aides and said, “I think we’re done, do you guys agree?”
Trump then left the room and, to the surprise of Stahl and her producers, never returned for the segment with Pence. (Stahl ended up interviewing the vice president on his own.)
It was initially unclear what prompted the president to walk out. The Washington Post, citing an unnamed source close to the White House, said Trump seemed to grow increasingly unhappy over the course of the interview, as “Stahl asked him tough questions regarding his rhetoric about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the size of the crowds at his rallies and his disputes with Anthony S. Fauci.” According to the paper, Stahl apparently also tried to debunk charges of Hunter Biden’s alleged corruption and claims that the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign in 2016, but “there were no bombshell revelations.”
Another aide told the Post there was some puzzlement about why Trump refused to go ahead with the second part of the interview: “The interview was not that bad,” the unnamed White House staffer said. “It wasn’t a bad interview. She just had a tone he didn’t like.”
The program, scheduled to be aired on CBS this Sunday, also will include interviews with Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, and Trump reportedly left his session convinced that the former vice president would be given more favorable treatment and so immediately started plotting with aides on how they could preempt and undermine the interview with Stahl.
His first salvo came, of course, via Twitter, with the president tweeting that the interview was “FAKE and BIASED” and then posting a short, behind-the-scenes video of Stahl in which she is shown not wearing a mask.
Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes not wearing a mask in the White House after her interview with me. Much more to come. pic.twitter.com/0plZG6a4fH
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2020
(CBS said that Stahl had worn a mask at the White House up until the start of her taping with the president. The network said the video posted by Trump was taken immediately after the interview ended, as Stahl conferred with two of her producers, both wearing masks. CBS said all of its crew, including Stahl, was tested for coronavirus before being admitted to the White House.)
Trump then followed up with another tweet on Thursday morning, suggesting he had his own tape of the interview and planned to release it in advance of the show’s airing on Sunday. “I will soon be giving a first in television history full, unedited preview of the vicious attempted ‘takeout’ interview of me by Lesley Stahl of @60Minutes,” the president tweeted. “Watch her constant interruptions & anger. Compare my full, flowing and ‘magnificently brilliant’ answers to their ‘Q’s’”.
What might have gotten under Trump’s skin was foreshadowed by a brief exchange between Stahl and the president released by CBS on Thursday, in which Stahl challenged Trump on his repeated claim that he had created “the greatest economy in the history of our country.”
“You know that’s not true,” Stahl interjects, cutting him off.
“It is totally true,” Trump responds.
“No,” Stahl says.
Watch more of Lesley Stahl’s interview with President Trump, Sunday. pic.twitter.com/zA5q4pFxeI
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) October 22, 2020
Trump’s assault on 60 Minutes immediately became fodder for the late-night talk shows, with Stephen Colbert posting a parody of the “Trump cut” of his 60 Minutes interview, and James Corden saying that Trump was offended by Stahl’s questions because she was a “respected journalist and not someone from Fox News who asks, ‘How hard is it being this handsome?’”
But much of the reaction on social media was one of bewilderment, over why Trump would go out of his way to publicize an interview he was unhappy with, all but guaranteeing it would now get huge ratings.
Not sure why the White House is giving 60 Minutes millions of dollars worth of free pre-air promotions but YOLO I guess.
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) October 20, 2020