Needy Trump attacks reporters in public — but secretly calls them seeking approval
President Donald Trump listens during a phone conversation with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto on trade in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on August 27, 2018. (AFP / Mandel Ngan)

President Donald Trump infamously attacks the media on a near-daily basis, but behind the scenes has one of the chummiest relationships with individual reporters than any chief executive in decades.

Trump reportedly speaks almost every night with Fox News host Sean Hannity, who agrees he's not a journalist, and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, but the president also makes frequent and impromptu calls to reporters, reported Politico Magazine.

"In some cases, Trump has known journalists — like Maggie Haberman of the New York Times — for many years, giving a natural ease to their relationship," writes Politico editor-in-chief John Harris, "but in several other cases Trump has established a rapport with reporters, such as the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey or Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs, he has only come to know after following their work as candidate or president."

Some of those reporters recall being interrupted at bars and cable television studios by unexpected phone calls from the president, who asks about their romantic lives and tries to pry into book projects they're working on.

"These interactions, according to people with firsthand or close secondhand knowledge of them, reflect a keen awareness by Trump of individual personalities in the sea of beat reporters covering him, and a fixation on key figures at powerful news organizations," Harris writes.

Trump rarely goes out in Washington except to eat dinner at his own hotel near the White House, but those behind-the-scenes calls to reporters keeps him in the loop on gossip.

Those conversations frequently veer on and off the record, and then stray into background, that show Trump is highly fluent in journalistic rules of engagement, reporters told the website, which the president learned over the years from calling gossip reporters in New York City to share tips and massage coverage of himself and his enemies.

The president doesn't call any beat news reporters as often as Hannity, but they say Trump can't help himself from reaching out to talk about himself and their coverage of his presidency.

"The main theme of presidential conversations, of course, is not social frivolities but the same subject that animates Trump on Twitter and in public remarks: what a great job he believes he is doing, and his conviction that he is not getting enough credit," Harris writes.

The president complains in speeches and on Twitter about the negative coverage he gets, but reporters who speak to him say their conversations reveal Trump's love-hate relationship with the media.

“It’s not that his bark is worse than his bite,” said a reporter who has covered Trump up close. “He doesn’t really want to bite at all. He wants to be petted.”