During Monday’s White House press briefing, CNN’s Jim Acosta tried to get White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to identify precisely which outlets and reporters the president meant when he talked about fake news and journalists being enemies of the people.
But CNN capped that performance with a story by Chris Cillizza, its editor-at-large, who said Sanders did not name any reporters who should be considered enemies of the people because she could not.
“The president said this morning the fake news media, the true enemy of the people, must stop,” Acosta said. “They have a responsibility to report the news accurately and fairly. Can you state for the record which outlets you and the president regard as the enemy of the people?”
“I’m not going to walk through a list, but I think those individuals probably know who they are,” Sanders said.
Acosta pressed on.
“Would that include my outlet, which received uh … a bomb last week?”
Sanders again declined to name any specific outlet.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily specific to a general … a broad generalization of a full outlet. At times, I think there are individuals that the president would be referencing.”
“So you’re not going to state for the record then … if the president is going to say the fake news media are the enemy of the people, and if you’re going to stand there and continue to say there are some journalists, there are some news outlets in this country that meet that characterization, shouldn’t you have the guts, Sarah, to state which outlets, which journalists are the enemy of the people?”
“I think it’s irresponsible a news organization like yours to blame responsibility of a pipe bomb that was not sent by the president … not just blame the president but blame members of his administration for those heinous acts. I think that is outrageous and I think it’s irresponsible.”
Later that day, Cillizza wrote: “Given that the president of the United States was blaming the media for creating the ‘great anger in our country’ and arguing that the mainstream media was the ‘true enemy of the people,’ it didn’t seem like much of a stretch to ask the White House to name names. Who, exactly, is the fake news? What outlets are the enemy of the people?”
He then recounted the exchange between Acosta and Sanders and concluded: “So, no names named. Which should surprise exactly no one.
“The little secret of Trump’s ‘fake news’ attack is that he doesn’t hate the media at all. He LOVES the media. He cares deeply about what they say and write about him. He likes to banter with reporters. He consumes more media – primarily by watching cable TV – than any president ever. And it’s not close.”
Cillizza did not say how he knows how much TV – cable news or otherwise – the president watches. But he did provide what he considers some insight into the strategy.
“All of Trump’s attacks on ‘fake news’ and his labeling of the media as the ‘enemy of the people’ are purely a political strategy,” Cillizza wrote, implying it had nothing to do with the tone or content of a network that also on Monday included a panel discussion in which an “expert” said Trump had radicalized “so many more people than ISIS.”
“The president knows his base hates and distrusts the media. What better way to motivate them eight days before the midterm election than to cast the media as the real bad guys at the root of the violent rhetoric and actions we have seen over the past week?”
“Sanders can’t name specific outlets or specific people who are enemies of the people or purveyors of fake news because the whole thing is just empty rhetoric solely designed to motivate base voters. There’s no ‘there’ there. Which becomes readily apparent when a reporter calls out the White House on its dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric.”