Ruing that Donald Trump did not get the honeymoon period most new presidents usually do, a top Indian-American White House communications official has criticised the media for attacking the president from day one, rather than reporting “fair and straight.” “There is a constant effort by the mainstream media to go after this president rather than reporting fair and straight,” Raj Shah, a key behind-the-scenes player in Trump’s White House, said.
“There’s been a treatment of this president, even from the campaign through the transition into the inauguration and afterwards, that has been hostile. There has been a very tough treatment of the president by the media,” Shah said. “The press jumps the storyline often irresponsibly… A lot of time (they) do not have accountability,” the 32-year-old Deputy Communications Director told PTI.
Shah, who supports Trump’s communications team shape his media portrayal and narrative, admitted it would be a big challenge for him given the “hostile atmosphere” from the very first day on Januray 20, when Trump officially took over. Trump has had several run-ins with the press. He called The New York Times a “failing” newspaper, denied credentials to The Washington Post and termed CNN “Clinton News Network”.
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On Thursday, he demanded that The Times and other media apologise to him for “going crazy with conspiracy theories and blind hatred” after reports emerged that senior aides with his presidential campaign were in contact with Russian officials.
His White House has vowed to fight the news media “tooth and nail” over “unfair attacks”. The Trump administration has questioned most of the news reports that have not been favourable – from the crowd estimates at Trump’s inauguration to his controversial travel ban on citizens from seven-Muslim majority nations.
And here Shah’s role as part of Trump’s communications team becomes important. “As Deputy Communications Director, my job is to help Press Secretary Sean Spicer articulate the President’s message, responding to the news of the day, the events of the day, correcting the media portrayals and narrative, inaccuracies, presenting new information,” he said.
“It is about synthesising various elements and putting them together, helping Sean prepare for the briefing, rolling out decisions and actions being taken out by the President,” Shah, who begins his day at the White House at 6:30 AM, said.
“We work through the morning, we discuss the news of the day and how we are going to respond to it, figure out who needs to be looped in, there are policy elements, there are foreign policy elements, relevant players from the policy shops, we gather the information, synthesize it and later in the day at 10 am in another round of the news we figure out.”
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Late afternoon, he starts briefing his boss. “There’s so much is going on around the world. There’s speed and pace with it to which we need to adjust,” he said, sitting in his spacious office, adjacent to his war room.
Another challenge, Shah said, is the Democratic Party. He was the Director of Opposition Research in the Republican National Committee before he moved to White House. Helped by a team of researchers, he had dug up information on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign and developed the 1,500-page “Hillary Files”.
His office has now moved to Eisenhower Executive Office Building inside the White House from the Republican Party’s headquarters a few block away from the US Capitol. Here, his team is reduced to half, while the task is elaborate.
“I think their (Democrat’s) tactics have been unprecedented, they have been hostile, they have been entirely partisan and they have been trying to squeeze the government at fault in many ways. It undermines the effectiveness of how we can do the work for the American people. I wish the media is willing to – and able to – expose them,” Shah said.
There’re other issues that have been equally frustrating for him. “The focus on changes to the National Security Council, organisation of meetings was overblown and missed the mark and did not share the historical context,” Shah said.
Shah, whose parents migrated to the US in the 80s, was born and raised in Connecticut. He studied at Cornell University and after graduation joined the RNC.