Sometime in 2011, I got a call from Donald Trump. He said he was thinking of running for president and wanted to know what I thought of the idea. I'm guessing he also called a million other journalists, but I had reported on his golf course in Scotland and after it aired he told someone, "Bernie didn't do me any favors, but he was fair." Maybe that's why he called.
Anyway, I told him that as a journalist I don't give advice to people thinking of running for president. We chatted for a few more moments and that was the end of it.
If he asked my advice now -- he won't! -- I'd relent and tell him that since that conversation he has become the most disruptive president in our modern history.
I'd tell him his war with the press is especially troubling. He says his critics in the media peddle "fake news." Not really. A lot of them, though, do peddle "biased news." They hate him and it comes out in their decisions about what to cover and how to cover it (though he gives them plenty of ammunition).
But I'd tell him that there's a better way to deal with the press than waging nonstop war.
First, no more tweets about Mika "bleeding badly from a face-lift" she says she never had. And no more videos of businessman Donald Trump body slamming a guy with the CNN logo imposed on his face.
Someone needs to remind the president that he holds the same office as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. A little dignity is in order.
Let's acknowledge that many of the president's most loyal fans love it when he attacks the press -- when he "fights fire with fire." But appealing to the base isn't getting him anywhere.
Trump won the election with 46 percent of the vote. Now his approval numbers are in the 30s, which means that a lot of people who voted for him -- the ones who weren't big fans but who couldn't bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton -- are abandoning ship.
The loyalists who think he's a messiah are not the kind of friends he needs right now. Yes, they give him the adulation he craves. But they'll be there for him no matter what. And if they're all he's got, he can forget about turning his vision of making America great again into a political reality. If the pols in Washington aren't afraid of him -- and they won't be if his numbers stay in the 30s -- they won't put their necks on the line to support his agenda.
So here's an idea: a national TV address that the president's loyal fans won't embrace -- who cares? -- but likely would win over moderates who aren't in the Never Trump camp. Imagine if he said something like this:
"My fellow Americans, my focus tonight is on one of the most important institutions in our great country: the news media.
"We all know we can't have a free country without a free press. But neither can we have a free country without a fair press. Let me be clear: Journalists not only have the right, but also the obligation to hold me accountable for my actions.
"But let's not pretend that journalists don't have an agenda, one that goes beyond simply telling the truth. And just as I've been charged with trying to delegitimize the media, too many in the media have been trying to delegitimize my presidency.
"Joe Scarborough said I remind him of his mother who has dementia. Mika Brzezinski has said I don't love my country. Others have called me a thug, a pig, Hitler and a whole bunch of other names.
"Tonight, I acknowledge that my tweets in response too often have been needlessly vindictive -- and counterproductive. But journalists 'haven't merely defended their reporting, they've doubled down on attacking' me, as a writer in National Review put it.
"So, as Monty Hall used to say, Let's make a deal: I will continue to point out what I believe is false news. But I will stop the personal attacks on members of the press. And it wouldn't hurt if journalists showed some contrition, too. It wouldn't be so terrible if reporters acknowledged that because they think I'm 'unfit to be president,' they also think it's OK to inject bias and malice into their stories without fear of consequence.
"Someone has to put an end to this. Someone has to say 'Enough.' I'm saying it right now."
If he delivered that speech, his poll numbers would head northward -- regardless of how his critics in the media reacted.
But no, I'm not Pollyanna. I understand that Donald Trump may be incapable of not fighting back, often in childish ways.
And too many journalists see themselves on a noble mission to save the nation from this president.
The more Trump attacks journalists, the more they attack him. The more they attack him, the more he attacks them. He won't stop unless they stop first. And they won't stop unless he does, if then.
This reminds of me third grade: You started it first. No, you started it first.
It doesn't matter who started it. It matters who has the wisdom to end it.