Financial Times - Trump’s CNN smackdown opens new front in media war

Financial Times - Trump’s CNN smackdown opens new front in media war

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July 2, 2017.  Shawn Donnan.

Network accuses president of encouraging violence against reporters with video tweet.

Donald Trump took his social media war against American journalists to a new level on Sunday by sending out a doctored video from a professional wrestling event of him wrestling to the ground a man with a CNN logo for a head.

The post on Twitter was sent out as Mr Trump was ostensibly preparing to meet fellow G20 leaders in Germany this week and planning calls later on Sunday with Japan’s Shinzo Abe and China’s Xi Jinping. It was the latest salvo in a growing rhetorical war with the US media that has tested the bounds of propriety and drawn denouncements from even members of Mr Trump’s own Republican party worried that his agenda is being derailed by a pointless media feud.

“It is a sad day when the President of the United States encourages violence against reporters,” CNN said in a statement. “Instead of preparing for his overseas trip . . . and working on his healthcare bill, he is instead involved in juvenile behaviour far below the dignity of his office. We will keep doing our jobs. He should start doing his.”

Anders Samuelsen, the Danish foreign minister, tweeted: “@realDonald Trump should really pull himself together NOW, focus on the fight for freedom and reinstall respect for the presidency”.

Addressing a group of veterans on Saturday, Mr Trump defended his use of Twitter as a way to get around what he views as a hostile mainstream media.

“The fake media is trying to silence us, but we will not let them,” Mr Trump said. “The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House. But I’m president, and they’re not.”

The White House scored what it saw as a victory in its war against CNN last week after three members of its investigative unit were forced to resign over the network’s publication online of an unverified report involving a prominent Trump adviser.

But that was overshadowed when Mr Trump used Twitter to rekindle a feud with a pair of MSNBC hosts. He accused one of them, Mika Brzezinski, the daughter of late national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, of courting him for an interview while “bleeding badly from a facelift. I said no!”

Mr Trump has watched much of his agenda stall in Congress and recorded historically low approval ratings. He is also facing a special prosecutor’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s election.

The president’s social media use has drawn increased uproar and repeated polls show a majority of Americans are uncomfortable with his Twitter attacks on critics. But there are also signs that his combativeness plays well with his most ardent supporters and the president and White House aides argue his use of social media remains an effective channel.

“My use of social media is not Presidential — it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!” Mr Trump tweeted on Saturday.

Republicans and Democrats are sharply divided about which news outlets they trust, with Republicans far more likely to believe that the media is biased. Within four hours of Mr Trump tweeting the video clip, 175,000 people had liked it on Twitter.

“I’m proud of the president for developing a Twitter and a social media platform where he can talk directly to the American people,” Thomas Bossert, a White House homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, said Sunday. “He’s the most genuine president and the most non-politician president that we’ve seen in my lifetime. And he’s demonstrated — whatever the content of that particular tweet is or any tweet, he’s demonstrated a genuine ability to communicate to the people.”

Other Republicans, however, have grown increasingly concerned about Mr Trump’s social media campaigns, arguing that they are distracting him from the hard work needed to pass things such as healthcare and tax reform through Congress.

Ben Sasse, a Republican senator from Nebraska, warned on Sunday that the president’s attacks on the media were undermining American democracy and the media freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment of the US constitution.

“The First Amendment is the beating heart of the American experiment, and you don’t get to separate the freedoms that are in there,” he told CNN.

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