President Trump lashed out at journalists during a news conference at the White House on Wednesday, renewing his attacks on media organizations that he says report “fake news” as “the enemy of the people” just moments after pledging an end to partisan politics in the wake of a grueling midterm election.
In tense exchanges on live television, Trump denounced a network correspondent as very rude, told several reporters to sit down, and at one point stepped away from his lectern, suggesting he was prepared to cut off the session — a rare formal East Room news conference — because of queries he disliked.
Not for the first time, Trump appeared most incensed by a question from Jim Acosta of CNN, who challenged Trump’s characterization of a caravan of migrants in Mexico as an imminent “invasion.”
“Honestly, I think you should let me run the country — you run CNN,” Trump replied. “And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”
When Acosta attempted a follow-up, about the special counsel’s investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign, the president’s cut him off.
“That’s enough, that’s enough,” Trump said. “Put down the mike.”
As cameras rolled, a White House aide leaned toward Acosta and attempted to remove the microphone from his hands. Acosta held on and declined to sit, as Trump continued to berate him.
“CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them,” the president said. “You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.” He added, in a reference to the White House press secretary: “The way you treat Sarah Huckabee is horrible. You shouldn’t treat people that way.”
Jabbing a finger in the reporter’s direction, he said, “When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.”
The president frequently clashes with reporters, particularly Acosta, whose confrontational style has sometimes rankled his pressroom colleagues. But Trump also enjoys the jousting of a live news conference, and he had submitted to a string of interviews in the run-up to Tuesday’s vote.
By Wednesday, though, Trump seemed more ornery than outgoing.
“Sit down!” he shouted several times as April Ryan, a correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, tried to ask a question about voter suppression. “I didn’t call you. I didn’t call you. I’ll give you voter suppression. Take a look at the CNN polls and how inaccurate they were.”
As Ryan persisted, Trump kept up his scolding.
“Such a hostile media, it’s so sad,” he said, accusing Ryan of interrupting a male reporter’s question. “You rudely interrupted him. You rudely interrupted him.”
Later, when Yamiche Alcindor of PBS asked about Trump and white nationalists, the president called her question racist.
“What you said is so insulting to me,” he told Alcindor.
“I followed up the president calling my question ‘racist’ with a policy question about his proposed middle class tax cut because that’s what journalists do,” Alcindor later wrote on Twitter. “We press on. We focus on the privilege of asking questions for a living. We do the work.”
Attacking the press usually redounds to Trump’s benefit: Many of his supporters are fired up by denunciations of news organizations as liberal elites. Jon Favreau, the “Pod Save America” host and former aide to former president Barack Obama, lamented Wednesday’s exchanges as playing into the president’s hands.
“Can we not make today into another Trump v. Media fight?” Favreau wrote on Twitter. “This is exactly what he wants.”
The president’s “enemy of the people” language has been blamed for rising threats against journalists, and press freedom groups say Trump’s words have emboldened autocrats around the world to crack down on reporters. CNN issued a statement standing by Acosta and calling Trump’s attacks on the news media “disturbingly un-American.”
“While President Trump has made it clear he does not respect a free press, he has a sworn obligation to protect it,” the network said.
Trump ended his appearance by saying: “It isn’t good what the media is doing. I am being treated very unfairly, and I’m fighting back — not for me but for the people of this country.”
At one point Peter Alexander of NBC News piped up in Acosta’s defense, telling the president that he was “a hardworking, diligent reporter” who “busts his butt.”
Trump shot Alexander a look. “I’m not a big fan of yours, either, to be honest,” the president said.
Even in a tense room filled with journalists, the line earned some laughs.