Members of the media blasted back at President Donald Trump on Wednesday after he railed against the press at a rally and called journalists “dishonest people” who “don’t like our country”, The Hill reports.
Acrimony between the Trump White House and the media has been escalating for months, but the latest round of attacks and counterattacks was notable for its bare-knuckle ferocity.
At a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Trump delivered a 30-minute diatribe in which he lambasted the “damned dishonest” press. The president accused the media of exacerbating racial divisions, attacking ordinary Americans, giving a platform to hate groups and of “trying to take away our history and our heritage”.
“If you want to discover the source of the division in our country, look no further than the fake news and the crooked media,” he said. Many in the media took the attacks personally.
The reaction from CNN’s panel of seven commentators, led by anchor Don Lemon, was ferocious and swift. Lemon accused the president of “trying to ignite a civil war” and likened Trump to a 6-year-old child with imaginary friends.
“He’s unhinged. It’s embarrassing. … His speech was without thought, it was without reason, it was devoid of facts, it was devoid of wisdom, it was devoid of gravitas. There was no sanity there. … [Trump is] clearly wounded by the rational people who are abandoning him in droves, meaning the business people and the people in Washington now who are questioning his fitness for office and whether he is stable,” Lemon said.
Lemon allowed his panel of strategists and political analysts to openly speculate about Trump’s mental health. GOP strategist Rick Wilson, a longtime Trump critic, called the address “an astounding chain of lies tied together by lunatic asides by a man who obviously is mentally unstable”. Democratic strategist Maria Cardona said that, “he might be psychologically demented and ill of the mind”.
Lemon read a tweet from CNN analyst Ana Navarro, who said the only explanation for Trump’s speech might be “dementia”. CNN’s media reporter, Brian Stelter, used the subject line of “Poison” to describe the event in his daily newsletter. Meanwhile, over on MSNBC, Joe Scarborough called Trump’s address “frightening” and likened the president to a fascist.
“This was a hateful, derisive speech. It was a frightening speech. He sounded like an autocrat trying to dehumanize his allies.” Scarborough said.
Column writers for The New York Times, which Trump called “failing” and The Washington Post, which the president described as a “lobbying tool for Amazon”, unloaded on the president. The Washington Post’s conservative opinion writer Jennifer Rubin said the address was “horrifying, dishonest and raises issue of mental stability”.
Axios political reporter Mike Allen said in his morning newsletter that Trump had endangered the safety of reporters covering the rally by pointing them out to the crowd. White House press pool reporter David Boyer, of The Washington Times, noted in his dispatch that “during this portion, the crowd in front of the press section is turning around more frequently to glare at reporters and shout epithets”. “It was as if Trump, who was introduced by Vice President Pence, was taunting the rowdy crowd to turn on reporters,” Allen wrote.
“In this fevered environment, some journalist could get beaten, or worse,” he said. To Trump’s supporters, the only thing that was new about the latest skirmish was the level of hysteria it provoked from the media.
They said the media also warned it was being physically threatened when the president tweeted a fake video of him body-slamming a wrestler with the CNN logo emblazoned on his head. Trump ally Sean Hannity is planning to follow the president’s lead in his opening monologue on Fox News Channel on Wednesday night, promising to take the fight directly to “the corrupt media”. The pro-Trump outside group Great America Alliance is fundraising off Lemon’s remarks about the rally.
“They have thin skin to criticism. Last night was another example of the Greatest Show on Earth. Vintage Trump.” said one former Trump adviser.
Breitbart News, which had run a string of stories critical of Trump in recent days, reveled in the president’s media attacks. Ben Shapiro, the conservative founder of The Daily Wire, argued that the media’s reaction plays right into Trump’s hands.
On “Good Morning America” ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega accused the president of “incitement” against reporters. “It really feels like a matter of time, frankly, before someone gets hurt,” she said.
And the Society of Professional Journalists released a statement pushing back on Trump’s claim that reporters don’t love the country. Still, the media is an easy target, with polls consistently finding that the public holds it in low regard. Trump’s attacks against the press have been a pillar of his rise and of his broader political strategy.