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After Recent Violence, Trump Criticized For Harsh Attacks On Media


Days before an election, President Trump continues his attacks without evidence on a favorite target.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When I say the enemy of the people, I'm talking about the fake news.

INSKEEP: That was the president yesterday on Fox again calling the media the enemy of the people. This comes just days after the arrest of a man who was accused of targeting prominent liberals and CNN with potentially explosive devices and also after Saturday's slaughter of Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Many journalists are condemning the president for his lacerating language against Democrats, his political opponents, the press, immigrants, you name it, especially after this latest spate of violence. Take CNN analyst and former NBC anchor David Gregory on CNN. Gregory pointed to Trump's actions and language against a caravan of Central American migrants.


DAVID GREGORY: Suggesting that they're vermin and they're infesting the country - you cannot ignore how that can be heard by people who hate immigrants, who are afraid of anyone who they think is going to change their way of life and who hates Jews.

FOLKENFLIK: On Saturday, Trump had engaged in this exchange with reporters.


TRUMP: And I'd have a much different tone, frankly, if the press was even-handed. If the press was fair, I'd have a much different tone all the time. But I'm fighting the media. I'm fighting the - the media is not being honest.

FOLKENFLIK: Trump was speaking his subtext out loud.


TRUMP: I have to have that tone. Otherwise, I'll never get my points across. We'll never get what we have to get across.

FOLKENFLIK: News reports had noted that the man charged with sending improvised explosive devices to CNN and many high-profile Democrats had lived in a van bathed in pro-Trump and anti-CNN decals. Journalists also reported the man arrested for killing worshippers in the Pittsburgh synagogue had embraced anti-immigrant rhetoric and posted angrily about a Jewish organization that helped refugees settle here. In tweets Sunday and yesterday, Trump claimed the media was unfairly blaming the attacks on Republicans. And instead, he blamed the press for the country's great anger. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not yield an inch yesterday.


JONATHAN KARL: When you say he's trying to unite the country, why is he out there...

SARAH SANDERS: The very...

KARL: ...Making these attacks?

SANDERS: Jonathan, the very first thing that the president did was condemn the attacks, both in Pittsburgh and in the pipe bombs. The very first thing the media did was blame the president and make him responsible for these ridiculous acts.

FOLKENFLIK: It was Sanders' first press conference in nearly a month, the first since the bomb mailings and the mass shootings.


JIM ACOSTA: Shouldn't you reserve the term enemy for people who are actually the enemy of the United States rather than journalists?

SANDERS: The president's not referencing all media. He's talking about the growing amount of fake news that exists in the country, and the president's calling that out.

FOLKENFLIK: It's not that the media is without hyperbole. This anecdote from Lesley Stahl suggests why Trump makes the press the issue. Back in May, the "60 Minutes" correspondent spoke to the Deadline Club, a New York City journalism organization. Stahl told it of a meeting with the future president at Trump Tower in 2016.


LESLEY STAHL: And he's attacking the press, and it - there were no cameras. There was nothing going on. And I said, you know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You're doing it over and over, and it's boring. And it's time to end that. Why do you keep hammering at this?

FOLKENFLIK: Stahl said Trump had a ready reply.


STAHL: And he said, you know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all. So when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.

FOLKENFLIK: Trump has not backed down from calling the press the enemy despite pleas of news executives who say his rhetoric is dangerous and despite most recently the targeting of CNN by a would-be bomber. Instead, the president blames the press for the nation's anger and for his own tirades.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOE CORFIELD'S "WILDFLOWER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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