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Trump’s Attacks on the Media Are Reaching Dangerous New Levels

The president has unleashed a flurry of unhinged attacks against CNN, NBC and others

President Donald Trump waves to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and then on to Southampton, N.Y., for a fundraiserTrump, Washington, USA - 17 Aug 2018

President Trump

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Hours after calling legendary Washington Post reporter and current CNN contributor Carl Bernstein a “degenerate fool,” President Trump roused himself out of bed Thursday to levy another series of unhinged attacks against the media. Beginning just before 7 a.m., the president tweeted a whopping 10 times over the next three hours, with six of his missives aimed directly at the amorphous concept of “Fake News.” Once again, Trump described the press as the “Enemy of the People,” a phrase parroted by a California man arrested Thursday for threatening to shoot Boston Globe employees in the head. Also of note was a baseless allegation made by the president that NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt doctored the tape of the May 2017 interview in which Trump admitted that he fired James Comey as FBI Director because of the Russia investigation.

Though the White House cited a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein criticizing Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails as the reason for his dismissal, many speculated the move was made because Comey was presiding over the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia. Trump confirmed this speculation a few days later when he admitted to Holt that he fired Comey because of “the Russia thing.”

Trump contradicted himself when he tweeted in April that “Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI Director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation,” but his tweet Thursday morning marks the first time he has questioned the legitimacy of his interview with Holt. Setting aside the absurdity of the implication, NBC wouldn’t have been able to “fudge” the tape if they tried. The camera is trained on Trump’s face as he says, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.” There are no cutaways. Trump said what he said; there is no disputing it. Then again, as Trump told a group of veterans last month, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Trump wasn’t done with Bernstein and CNN, either. The president began the morning with a bit of projection, claiming that the network’s “hatred and extreme bias” has “clouded their thinking and made them unable to function.” He also attacked the network’s president, Jeff Zucker, who presided over NBC during Trump’s run as host of The Apprentice. As reported in a New York Times Magazine profile of Zucker last year, the two had a chance encounter at a pivotal moment on the campaign trail:

Last spring, as Trump was steaming toward the Republican nomination, Zucker ran into him in the men’s room in the network’s Washington bureau. Trump was powdering his face before an interview.

“You think any of this would have happened without ‘The Apprentice?’ ” Trump asked, as Zucker moved past him.

“Nope,” Zucker answered.

The president’s latest bout of wrath toward the network comes after Lanny Davis, the media-friendly lawyer representing Michael Cohen, admitted that he may not have been entirely truthful when he told Bernstein last month that his client planned to testify that the president knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting prior to the 2016 election. “I should have done a much better job of speaking with more suspicion than certainty, and I regret my mistake,” Davis recently told CNN. Both Bernstein and the network have said that despite Davis’ wavering, they stand by the story, which cited multiple sources. “Make no mistake, Mr. President, CNN does not lie,” the network tweeted Wednesday night. “We report the news. And we report when people in power tell lies. CNN stands by our reporting and our reporters. There may be many fools in this story but @carlbernstein is not one of them.” Bernstein chimed in, as well.

The tweets from CNN and Bernstein were replies to Trump’s Wednesday night tweet that “CNN is being torn apart from within based on their being caught in a major lie and refusing to admit the mistake.” In the same tweet, the president called “sloppy” Bernstein “a man who lives in the past and thinks like a degenerate fool” and that he “is being laughed at all over the country.”

Trump’s latest onslaught of attacks against what he believes to be inaccurate reporting come the same week the he erroneously tweeted that China was responsible for hacking into Hillary Clinton’s email server prior to the 2016 election. The tweet was based on an uncorroborated report from right-wing website The Daily Caller, which cited anonymous sources in its reporting. The next morning, Trump tweeted that when an outlet cites anonymous sources, “stop reading the story, it is fiction!”

As many have pointed out, the White House regularly holds briefings in which officials are not permitted to be quoted by name, and Trump has long tried to manipulate the media by proffering himself as an anonymous source, which may explain why he believes people who refuse to go on the record — or at least the ones with unflattering things to say about Trump — are doing so because they are lying.

Not surprisingly, the FBI has denied Trump’s anonymous-source-based claim that China hacked into Hillary Clinton’s email server, citing that they have “not found any evidence the servers were compromised.” Trump, of course, has not removed the tweet.

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