NEW YORK – The tense relationship between the Trump administration and the American media produced a new and unexpected hero for the liberal press on Tuesday: a reporter from Playboy.
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Brian Karem, the 56-year-old White House correspondent for the men’s magazine, interrupted Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during a press briefing to defend media organizations criticism leveled at them by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration. He followed up accusing Huckabee Sanders with inflaming the people against the media.
The charge was even more surprising considering it came from a representative of a publication that has for years enjoyed a warm relationship with the new president. Trump gave interviews to Playboy in 1990 and 1997 and even had a cameo role in a soft-core pornographic Playboy documentary in 2000.
The White House daily briefing has become more and more strained over the past few months as the administration took a number of exceptional steps, such as banning cameras from some of the briefings or excluding certain media outlets from others. On Tuesday, the tension burst out after Huckabee Sanders devoted about a third of the briefing to Trump’s claims against the media, focusing on CNN, which last Friday retracted a story quoting an anonymous source who said Congress was investigating a Russian investment firm that had ties to Trump officials. Three CNN journalists resigned in the aftermath of the retraction.
“I think we have gone to a place where if the media can’t be trusted to report the news, then that’s a dangerous place for America," said Huckabee Sanders. "And I think if that is the place where certain outlets are going, particularly for the purpose of spiking ratings, and if that’s coming directly from the top, then I think that’s even more scary, and certainly more disgraceful."
Accusing the media of a “constant barrage of fake news directed at this president” and calling news stories about Trump's alleged links to Russia a "hoax," Huckabee Sanders said: “News outlets get to go on day after day and cite unnamed sources, use stories without sources.”
Karem then broke in and interrupted her: “Come on, you’re inflaming everybody right here, right now, with those words. This administration has done that as well. Why in the name of heavens – any one of us, right, are replaceable, and any one of us, if we don’t get it right, the audience has the opportunity to turn the channel or not read us."
“You have been elected to serve for four years at least. There is no option other than that," he continued. "We’re here to ask you questions. You’re here to provide the answers. And what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at it and say, ‘See, once again, the president is right and everybody else out here is fake media.’ And everybody out here is only trying to do their job,” he added.
“I think if anything has been inflamed, it’s the dishonesty that often takes place by the news media,” Huckabee Sanders said in her defense.
The exchange between the journalist and the deputy press secretary was covered extensively in traditional publications and went viral on social media. In a Tweet, Playboy prided its reporter on taking a stand.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Karem said he attended the briefing to ask about Trump’s health care plan but quickly realized the session was intended only to criticize the press. “We all know in this business people who’ve been injured trying to get the news, people who’ve died trying to get the news. I was jailed trying to get the news,” he said. “To just have us all [be called] enemies of the people, fake news I’m tired of being bullied.”
Trump’s supporters rushed to mock the fact that Karem worked for Playboy. Breitbart News, an right-wing website that backs Trump, turned to legendary porn star Jenna Jameson.
“Well to be honest I’m surprised Playboy is even allowed at the White House,” Jameson told Breitbart. “Since they thought it was a good idea to remove the nudity from their failing publication, I have to say they lost credibility. The fact that they think people actually DO read Playboy for the articles shows they took their finger off the pulse of what people will spend their hard earned money on, a long time ago. Once again, this is a failed attempt by the liberals behind the bunny to drum up a bit of publicity in hopes to make us all care again. Have a seat, Playboy.”
Trump, who usually takes to Twitter in order to criticize the media and respond to any personal attacks, has yet to comment on the incident. For now, the most common explanation on social media is that Trump is finding it too hard to go after his favorite magazine.
Trump has had a friendly relationship with Playboy and has celebrated events at the Playboy Mansion. The magazine's founder, Hugh Hefner, wrote an editorial last year saying that Trump’s victory in the Republican primaries represents the victory of the sexual revolution against the conservative mores of the Republican Party.
Trump’s 1990 interview with the magazine, in which he discusses his plans for if and when he is ever elected president, is considered the most interesting interview he has ever given the press. In March, The Atlantic revealed that foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s staff, have used to this interview to study up on Trump before meeting or negotiating with him.
Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of the president's book, “Trump: The Art of the Deal,” also wrote for Playboy.