The applause that came after Donald Trump belittled reporters at his press conference came from staffers the President-elect paid for their presence.
Politico reported Wednesday afternoon that before President-elect Trump gave his first press conference in seven months, he packed both sides of the room with paid staffers who were there specifically to jeer at reporters and applaud at Trump’s attacks on the media.
“Do you honestly believe that Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Putin than me?” Trump asked at another point. Some staffers in the room responded to the rhetorical question, yelling out, “No!”
And they cheered again when Trump jeered sarcastically at a reporter who asked if he planned to release his tax returns. “Oh gee,” the president-elect said, employing a verbal eye roll, “I’ve never heard that before. The only ones who care about my tax returns are the reporters. I became president.”
The staffers can also be heard laughing and clapping at the 30-second mark of the below video when Trump refused to answer a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta, saying, “You’re fake news.”
— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) January 11, 2017
According to Politico, the surrounding of reporters by zealous Trump supporters also bolstered one of the chief narratives of Trump’s campaign — that members of the media were liars who fundamentally opposed him.
“The Greek chorus of loyal, paid staffers in the back of the room boosting Trump with their hoots and cheers also served as a reminder, of sorts, of the movement of Trump backers happy to take him at his word and jeer the media as the out-of-touch liars,” wrote Politico’s Annie Karni.
The President-elect also remarked that his lack of press conferences over the past seven months was due to negative media coverage, rather than an unwillingness to talk to reporters.
“We stopped giving [press conferences] because we’re getting quite a bit of inaccurate news,” Trump said early in his press conference.
The news of Trump paying staffers to intimidate journalists is another indicator of his savvy when it comes to media manipulation. Trump did something similar for his campaign announcement in June of 2015, when it was revealed he paid actors $50 apiece to show up at his campaign kickoff press conference.
“This is an event in support of Donald Trump and an upcoming exciting announcement he will be making at this event,” read an email sent by Extra Mile Casting, first published by the Hollywood Reporter. “We are looking to cast people for the event to wear t-shirts and carry signs and help cheer him in support of his announcement… The rate for this is: $50 CASH at the end of the event.”
In addition to calling CNN “fake news,” Trump called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage” that would “suffer the consequences,” and sarcastically referred to BBC News as “another beauty.”
Zach Cartwright is an activist and author from Richmond, Virginia. He enjoys writing about politics, government, and the media. Follow his work on the Public Banking Institute blog.