World / Politics

In case you missed it: Trump’s awkward response to a Japanese reporter

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

U.S. President Donald Trump’s combative relationship with the media was on full display Wednesday as he shouted and ranted at reporters in a news conference that led to the suspension of a CNN reporter.

At the presser Trump’s exchanges with CNN’s Jim Acosta and NBC News’ Peter Alexander turned bitterly personal, and he ordered a reporter from the American Urban Radio Networks to sit down when she tried to ask him a question about voter suppression, claiming she had interrupted another reporter.

Trump made several references in his news conference to how he feels mistreated by the press. Overshadowed by that ruckus was his exchange with a Japanese reporter, whose question Trump brusquely dismissed as incomprehensible due to his accent — prompting both criticism and sympathy from those watching the scene unfold.

The reporter asked, “Mr. President, can you tell us how you focus on the economic …”

Interrupting him, Trump asked the reporter where he is from. He had not identified himself before speaking, but the Nippon News Network (NNN), owned by Nippon Television, confirmed to The Japan Times on Thursday that he was a producer based in its Washington bureau.

At the reporter’s mention of Japan, Trump responded curtly, “Say hello to Shinzo,” referring to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — arguably his best friend among world leaders.

Trump went on to say he was sure Abe is “happy about tariffs on his cars.”

The reporter tried again, asking Trump: “How do you focus on the trade and economic issues with Japan? Will you ask Japan to do more?”

Trump, however, replied, “I really don’t understand you.”

When the reporter tried again, the president pounced on the only phrase he seemed to understand.

“Trade with Japan?” he said, going on to complain about how, despite Abe being a “very good friend” of his, Japan “does not treat the United States fairly on trade.”

The exchange aroused mixed emotions in those watching on social media.

“I had to close my eyes for 10 seconds with a deep sigh on this one,” writer Amee Vanderpool tweeted.

“The way he just handled this Japanese reporter (was) abhorrent,” tweeted @phosphor112.

But others were more understanding toward the president, interpreting Trump’s reaction — “I really don’t understand you” — not so much as mockery but as genuine confusion. “I was happy to see a Japanese reporter ask Trump a question in the post-election presser, which is something we rarely see. … But I wish they had sent someone who can speak English a bit better. He was representing Japan after all,” wrote one Twitter user, @Hige_shin_shi.

Trump also had trouble with other foreign reporters at the news conference. When a reporter for the TV network Al Arabiya asked Trump whether the victories of two Democratic Muslim women — Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — were a “rebuke” to his policies, his initial response was “I do not understand what you are saying,” reported the Atlantic magazine.

Later a reporter from Lebanon’s Murr Television asked about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pledge to buy Iranian oil in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

“Who said that?” Trump asked, according to the Atlantic.

“President Erdogan. Turkey,” the reporter replied.

“I know. I know,” Trump said. “I just can’t understand” you.

Trump has a history of claiming not to understand foreign accents. He has mocked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s manner of speaking, according to The New York Times, and is also said to have mocked the accents of Asian trade negotiators.

Information from AP added