“The crooked press.” “They are so dishonest.” “Fake news.” “Bad people.”
President Trump went on another extended riff against the nation’s news media on Thursday. It was startling partly because of its timing, one week after five employees were killed at a newspaper 30 miles from Washington.
Trump made the comments at a rally in Montana, where he campaigned alongside Republican state auditor Matt Rosendale to sink the re-election campaign of Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. The hateful anti-media rhetoric reached millions of people because it was carried live on Fox News and streamed on multiple websites.
CNN’s Abby Phillip, at the rally, observed: “So there’s your answer to the question of whether Trump’s rhetoric would change after 5 journalists were gunned down in Annapolis.”
The spark for Trump’s comment seemed to be his lingering frustration with the way his summit with Kim Jong Un was covered by the media. He repeatedly vented about unnamed commentators who criticized him for deciding to hold the summit.
“Fake news!” he said of the critiques. “They are fake news media.”
Trump said the same unspecified members of the media are now questioning whether he will be prepared for an upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin.
He said he’s been preparing his whole life, but “they never tell you that.”
“I see it. I see the way they write. They’re so damn dishonest,” Trump said. “I don’t mean all of them, because some of the finest people I know are journalists. Really. Hard to believe when I say that. I hate to say it, but I have to say. But 75 percent of those people are downright dishonest. Downright dishonest.”
This is a common Trump tactic — driving a wedge between “good” and “bad” journalists.
Another common tactic is to complain that news outlets make up sources, despite a glaring lack of evidence.
“They make the sources up. They don’t exist in many cases,” he claimed, falsely. “Any time you say — you know, I saw one of them said ’15 anonymous sources’ — I don’t have 15 people in the White — I mean, forget it.”
Maggie Haberman of The New York Times pointed out on Twitter that “his comms shop had about 40 people alone, a fact he knows quite well.”
Charlie Gasparino of the Fox Business Network had heard enough.
“Just heard @POTUS at this rally complaining about the use of anonymous sources. For the record he was one of mine over the years,” Gasparino wrote on Twitter.
He said he “always got along” with Trump personally, “but this anonymous source schtick is complete BS.”
Gasparino added: “He knows it.”
Trump’s blistering critiques of the media — fueling hatred of journalists and their employers — are a surefire way to excite the audience at his rallies.
But with newsrooms mourning the deaths of five Capital Gazette employees, there was some speculation — or perhaps just wishful thinking — that the president might tone it down. The alleged shooter, who had a longstanding grudge against the paper, is facing five counts of first-degree murder.
“Trump can’t, and shouldn’t, be blamed for the Annapolis massacre. But that doesn’t make his contempt for the press any less dangerous,” Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote.
Politico media critic Jack Shafer made a similar point: “Annapolis should be good enough reason for him to retire his blanket condemnations of the press for the remainder of his White House tenure.”
Last Friday, a day after the shooting, Trump offered his condolences at an East Room event saying, “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.”
Under pressure from local politicians, Trump on Tuesday ordered flags at half staff to honor the victims.
“Our Nation shares the sorrow of those affected by the shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper,” his proclamation stated.
But that same day, he also resumed his anti-media rhetoric. On Twitter, he called the “fake news” part of the “opposition party;” chastised journalists for pointing out his Twitter typos; accused the Washington Post of making up sources again; and called the Post “a disgrace to journalism,” adding, “but then again, so are many others!”