How Donald Trump turned the tables on The New York Times

Trump ex-girlfriend: I was misled by New York Times
Trump ex-girlfriend: I was misled by New York Times

Donald Trump woke up Monday staring down the barrel of a terrible news week. A scathing New York Times report about his "unsettling" treatment of women was the talk of the morning shows and looked set to dominate the news cycle for days.

But by the time the morning shows were over, Trump had muddied the narrative. Now the Times, too, was on the defensive.

For the umpteenth time this campaign cycle, Trump seemingly succeeded in shifting scrutiny away from himself and back onto the media. He does so by capitalizing on any uncertainty in the reporting and then aggressively calling attention to it.

In this instance, Trump's opening was former girlfriend Rowanne Brewer Lane, who appeared on Fox News and accused the Times of spinning her words.

Trump was watching. He went to great lengths to alert others to the interview -- even calling CNN's "New Day" control room to personally make sure that the producers had seen it.

Rowanne Brewer Lane
Rowanne Brewer Lane

As it turned out, they had; the producers had already been talking about how to incorporate Brewer Lane's comments onto the newscast.

But for the producers, the call was surreal. Presidential candidates don't typically call up television control rooms. But Trump is known to act like a TV producer (and his own publicist).

The "New Day" producer who took Trump's call urged him to come on the air for an interview, but he declined. He repeated his criticisms of the Times story and said he thought it was "cool" that Brewer Lane had spoken out.

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Brewer Lane was one of 50-plus people interviewed by The Times. The paper said the "interviews reveal unwelcome advances, a shrewd reliance on ambition, and unsettling workplace conduct over decades."

Brewer Lane was the lead of the story, detailing how Trump treated her at a pool party in 1990. She was a 26-year-old model, and Trump -- who had just met her -- asked her to try on a swimsuit. Then, she said, "He brought me out to the pool and said, 'That is a stunning Trump girl, isn't it?' "

Trump started railing against the Times story via Twitter on Sunday. He said the story was a "hit piece," which the Times denies.

Brewer Lane's appearance on Fox lent him support. At 6:15 a.m., she appeared on "Fox & Friends" and lambasted the paper for putting a "negative connotation" on her quotes.

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"They spun it," she said. "Obviously they feel like they need to do something to make him look bad."

She said she was flattered by Trump's comments about her appearance.

Forty-five minutes later, Trump tweeted: "That was an amazing interview on @foxandfriends - I hope the rest of the media picks it up to show how totally dishonest the @nytimes is!" Then he called "New Day."

Sources at two other morning shows, MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and "CBS This Morning," said they did not receive calls.

But the tone of television commentary about the issue began to change because of Brewer Lane's interview and Trump's tweets.

On "New Day," Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes said the story "has already been debunked this morning."

On "Morning Joe," the co-hosts announced that contributor Mark Halperin had just seen "a pretty incredible" interview on Fox that "people are going to be taking about."

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"It just shows the degree to which there's going to be a political fight over this story," Halperin said.

Rather than re-airing the start of its 6 a.m. hour at 8 a.m., as "Morning Joe" usually does, Scarborough came back at 8 a.m. with a clip from the Fox interview and a live discussion of the impact.

The shift did not go unnoticed by the political press. "The more Trump can turn this NYT story on his treatment of women into a debate over the Times, the better for him," The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza tweeted.

The Times defended its work. In a statement, the paper said that "Ms. Brewer Lane was quoted fairly, accurately and at length. The story provides context for the reader including that the swimsuit scene was the 'start of a whirlwind romance' between Ms. Brewer Lane and Mr. Trump."

Appearing on CNN later in the morning, Times reporter Michael Barbaro said "none of the facts are in dispute."

"The big picture here is that we're talking about a pattern of behavior" by Trump, he said.

But by noon, Trump declared victory, using Brewer Lane's comments to dismiss the story in its entirety.

First he tweeted that Brewer Lane had "blown up" the story.

Then he said, "We have exposed the article as a fraud!"

In an interview on CNN, Brewer Lane said she is supporting Trump's candidacy. She said she has not spoken with anyone from the campaign about the controversy.

As for Trump personally, "I haven't spoken to him in a long time," she said. "If I know Donald Trump, I'll probably hear from his camp at some point, you know, just to say 'Thank you for your honesty.' "

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