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Trump Launches ‘Vicious’ Attack on Press

Between speeches calling for unity and an end to divisiveness, President Donald Trump doubled down on his “us vs. them” attacks on the mainstream media, prompting the principal broadcast and cable journalism association to warn its members about protecting their safety.

At an Aug. 22 campaign rally in Phoenix, Trump claimed his comments in the wake of an Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally and subsequent violence in Charlottesville, Va., widely criticized for drawing a false equivalency between racists and those who opposed them, were “perfect” and were misreported by media outlets he peppered with invectives, from the familiar “fake” and “dishonest” to “sick people” who were unpatriotic and turned a blind eye to violence.

But the media were quick to point out that it was Trump misreporting his own statements, leaving out the “many sides” comments and “very fine people” characterization of some of those protesting with the neo-Nazis and racists — the parts of his statements that prompted the criticism.

The president mocked the small stature of ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, calling him “Little George;” slammed The New York Times as a failure; and referred to The Washington Post as the lobbying arm of Amazon.

He mocked CNN and stood by as the crowd booed the news outlet threateningly for perhaps half a minute.

Cable talking heads talked openly about a president unhinged and even delusional. Former Sen. Gordon Humphrey (RN. H.) questioned Trump’s mental fitness, suggesting that Congress and the cabinet should seriously consider whether he was fit to serve. “He is not a well man,” Humphrey told CNN. “He believes in his own lies.” He said that, behind the scenes, some members of Congress agreed the president appeared mentally unfit.

The Radio Television Digital News Association said the speech contained his “most vicious attacks to date,” and also sounded a warning.

“As long as the person with the most powerful bully pulpit in the world continues to attack verbally the news media, journalists are at risk,” RTDNA incoming executive director Dan Shelley said. “We urge reporters and photojournalists to be vigilant, and to take whatever steps they feel necessary to protect their personal safety while fulfilling their constitutionally guaranteed duty to seek and report the truth.”

It wasn’t just pundits and journalists who question Trump’s commitment to unity as well as his fitness for office.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll, conducted before the president’s latest exercise in calls for unity amidst divisive rhetoric, 62% of the respondents said Trump is doing more to divide than unite the country. As to his fitness, 61% said he was not honest and 68% said he is not “level-headed.”

In a separate Politico/Morning Consult poll, 53% of respondents said the president wasn’t moral, 55% said he wasn’t stable and 58% said he was reckless.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.