When they got the get — the third one-on-one interview with President Trump — staffers at CBN News took a moment for high-fives to celebrate.
But then the journalists for the usually little-noticed Christian Broadcasting Network went to work to capitalize on the newfound access they’d received from the Trump administration.
“To be on par, if you will, with ABC and Fox News with Sean Hannity, it really gave me a sense that it was a new day in D.C.,” said chief political correspondent David Brody of his 17-minute interview with Trump. “He had said all along that it was time to change the way his administration dealt with the media. And I think he was making good on that promise by having CBN News be a major part of the media equation.”
Brody, 51, a Reform Jew-turned-evangelical Christian, said his team was particularly proud that the new president had made news speaking into their cameras. Trump discussed his views on prioritizing persecuted Christians, called much of the media “the opposition party” and spoke of how he needs God more than ever after entering the White House.
The news staffers at the conservative Christian network known more for sharing the gospel than for breaking news scrambled to get video clips to major networks. Trump’s words to them were quoted across national and international media, in as many as 5,300 outlets, CBN said. A network news release said the program drew 3.4 million video views plus “more than 700,000 views through President Trump’s social media share alone.”
By contrast, 700,000 daily viewers on average watch “The 700 Club” on cable, affiliate and syndicated outlets.
Sitting under the bright lights of CBN News’ Washington studio days after he had been in the interviewer’s chair, Brody said his pitch for a one-on-one with Trump wasn’t a hard sell. He just pointed to the audience he serves through news programming rooted in CBN’s flagship “700 Club” show, based at Virginia Beach, Va., headquarters.
“That’s been my pitch — that we are an audience made up of ‘deplorables’ who call themselves proudly deplorable and these are the folks that got Donald Trump elected president of the United States,” he said, echoing the term Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton used in her campaign about Trump supporters. “If he’s really serious about cutting through the clutter of the mainstream media, then he needs to be looking to talk directly to our type of audience.”
Brody, who hosts and writes CBN’s “The Brody File,” believes his track record of nine previous interviews on the campaign trail helped the Trump camp know he could be “trusted as a journalist,” one who also had interviewed then-candidate Barack Obama four times.
The president tweeted after the interview: “I will be interviewed by @TheBrodyFile on @CBNNews tonight at 11pm. Enjoy!”
In addition to the interview, White House press secretary Sean Spicer has called on CBN correspondents three times within two weeks of briefings.
“Compare that to the Obama administration, which I covered most of his time at the White House,” said Jennifer Wishon, CBN News White House correspondent. “It was few and far in between.”
Though her seat remains in the middle of the back row of the briefing room, Wishon met Trump in the Blue Room before his Jan. 27 interview with Brody began. She said the president gave himself credit for the new access.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, ‘I’m Jennifer Wishon. I’m the White House correspondent for CBN News,” recalled Wishon, 37, a Southern Baptist. “He said, ‘I know. You got one of the first questions in that briefing.’ And I said, ‘Yes, sir. I appreciated that.’ He said, ‘That was me. That was because of me.’”
While CBN News may be thanking Trump now, Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center said, “At some point somebody might say, ‘When are you going to ask him a hard question?’ because he’s given them such attention and notoriety now.”
Brody said he’s already asked “substantive questions,” including some in the interview that aired on a CBN News special. He queried Trump about whether the president thinks the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist group and if he will move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump did not directly answer either question.
This kind of access and prominence has long been a dream of CBN founder Pat Robertson, said University of Colorado scholar Stewart Hoover.
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SOURCE: CBN News