Engaging the enemy: Why Trump is on a nonstop media campaign

It's a paradox: A president who is constantly denouncing fake news is spending more time than ever talking to journalists.

Perhaps more time than any president in history.

Donald Trump, mindful of the midterms, is suddenly ubiquitous: Fielding questions at news conferences, photo ops and pool sprays. In New York magazine. On Fox News. On "60 Minutes," where he dismissed the press as dishonest while spending quality time with Lesley Stahl. Even calling newspaper reporters on his own.

This all sounds like a carefully choreographed plan by his advisers to push the boss to make full use of his massive megaphone.

But it's not. White House insiders tell me it's all Trump, utterly convinced that he's his own best communicator.

This all-Trump-all-the-time programming has for now largely superseded the White House press briefings, which has caused some grumbling among reporters. But Sarah Sanders posed the same question to me that she has raised with others: Who would you rather hear from, me or the leader of the free world?

Trump tends to make more news, in any event. And while he may gather the press corps for a hurricane briefing, or to announce Nikki Haley's resignation, he is increasingly allowing time for questions on other, more controversial subjects.

This new level of access reflects a dichotomy in Trump's own view of the media. While he's often steamed about his coverage and attacking the so-called failing New York Times or Amazon Washington Post, he also craves that coverage — and has since his days as a New York developer and celebrity.

The last few weeks have also provided Trump a respite from his least favorite subject, the Russia investigation. With Robert Mueller observing the traditional public pause in the runup to the fall elections, press questions about the probe have been rare.

Insiders say that Trump has been in a talkative mood because he feels he's had a good couple of weeks. In a short span of time, he's gotten Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court, watched the jobless rate drop to 3.7 percent, cut a trade deal with Canada and persuaded Turkey to release an American pastor from captivity. The president enjoys basking in the media limelight when he feels he has a good product to sell.

Since his marathon U.N. news conference, Trump has taken questions from reporters, sometimes at length, virtually every day. He's come back and talked to correspondents on Air Force One. He has done interviews with Fox's Shannon Bream and Jeanine Pirro, and what was supposed to be a five-minute phoner with "Fox & Friends" turned into a 47-minute conversation.

The encounter with New York Magazine's Olivia Nuzzi was a classic of sorts. She was in the White House reporting on a story about a strained relationship between Trump and chief of staff John Kelly.

When the president heard about it, he told Sarah Sanders to track her down for a conversation. When the press secretary reached Nuzzi, she was about to leave the White House grounds.

Once in the Oval Office, Trump told her that Kelly was doing a great job and they were getting along well. In what appeared to be an orchestrated move, the general soon appeared in the room, followed by Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Nuzzi had what turned into a private press conference. But Pompeo had actually been scheduled to have lunch with Trump.

That the president would take the time to try to dissuade one magazine writer pursuing another White House-in-chaos story shows that he is back to trying to win over journalists — and cares about what they write. That is a contrast from his recent clash with Bob Woodward, when Trump expressed surprise that they hadn't spoken for his book (despite repeated requests) and then trashed him as a fiction writer when "Fear" was published.

With virtually any other president, the nonstop media blitz would raise the danger of overexposure. Indeed, Fox has stopped airing most of his rallies live, as they have become more repetitive and the ratings have sunk below the level of the network's prime-time lineup.

But Trump is enough of a showman that he still manages to make news on many topics and keep the entertainment factor high. That was underscored when he ceded the cameras to Kanye West's bizarre rant during an Oval Office visit, which kept the pundits arguing for days.

What is driving the Trump offensive, White House insiders say, is the midterm elections. The president knows he has to use his bullhorn to help Republicans struggling to keep control of the House and fend off Democrats in the Senate, and no one, even with his mistakes and controversial comments, can drive a message like him.

Trump may well dial it back after Nov. 6, though he's never going to shrink from the spotlight. In the meantime, if he still believes the media are the enemy of the American people, he is working hard to engage the enemy.