Witcover: Trump doubles down against the embattled news media

After a brief call for more civility in response to the flurry of bombs sent to past and current Democratic leaders, President Donald Trump still clings to his campaign against the press as "the enemy of the people."

His initial response Wednesday at the White House offered the minimum of what was necessary to say about the threats against presidential predecessors Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, also targeted, and Barack Obama.

"In these times, we have to unify," Mr. Trump said, "We have to come together and send on very clear, strong unmistakable message, that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America."

The comment provided no evidence of Mr. Trump reaching out to either of the Clintons or Mr. Obama, or for that matter to the head or staff of CNN, the cable giant that also received one of at least 13 mailed bombs.

The same night, the president spoke at a campaign rally in Wisconsin for a Republican candidate in the approaching Nov. 6 midterm congressional elections, in which party control of the House and Senate is at stake. The question on many minds was whether Mr. Trump would follow his own counsel of civility at what by now had become an occasion for raucous crowd reaction to Mr. Trump's own repeated taunts of the news media and Democrats.

Mr. Trump himself took note of the public interest and expectations of his words and behavior and the crowd reaction, mockingly observing: "By the way, do you see how nice I'm being tonight? Have you ever seen this? We're all behaving very well!" He counseled that "we should not mob people in public places or destroy public property." (Or, as he put it in a favorite campaign slogan, "Jobs, Not Mobs.")

But before long the president was back to his lecturing of the press. Reporters, he said, needed "to set a civil tone" and "stop the endless hostility and constant negativity of their false attacks and stories," without mentioning CNN, one of his prime television-world critics.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who was targeted with one of the mailed bombs, said in a speech in Texas of the president's rhetoric: "One could make the argument that it has emboldened individuals to take matters in their own hands."

Mr. Brennan cited instances in which Mr. Trump complimented a Republican congressman who had body-slammed a reporter as "my kind of guy," and in 2016 had told another man that he was going to pay his legal bill assessed "for taking a swing" at somebody else at one of his rallies.

Meanwhile, in a series of tweets begun late Sunday and continuing into Monday morning, the president again blamed media for divisions in the country.

“The Fake News is doing everything in their power to blame Republicans, Conservatives and me for the division and hatred that has been going on for so long in our Country. Actually, it is their Fake & Dishonest reporting which is causing problems far greater than they understand!”

“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame…”

“....of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!”

The swift arrest of a suspect in the mail bombings Friday was accompanied by a firm FBI conclusion that the devices were not a hoax but a genuine threat to the high-level former officials and others targeted. For that reason, it's imperative to learn what if any political motivation was involved in this event that has exploded in the midst of the midterm congressional elections, and that may well determine the future course of the Trump agenda and administration.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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