Shortly after activist Heather Heyer was killed when a white supremacist purposefully drove into a crowd of counter-protestors at an “alt-right” rally in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump tweeted a cartoon of a train labeled “Trump” colliding with a man whose face is covered by the CNN logo.
The tweet was posted at 7 a.m. New York time on Tuesday and was taken down approximately half-an-hour later. The cartoon was captioned “Fake news can’t stop the Trump Train.” An anonymous White House official told NBC that “it was inadvertently posted and as soon it was noticed it was immediately deleted.”
The Trump administration has taken aim at many news outlets, but CNN in particular has been made into a target. During a press conference on what happened in Charlottesville, Trump made time to single out CNN and call them “fake news.” Steve Bannon, one of Trump’s aides and arguably one of his biggest influences, has also lashed out at the New York Times. The administration has, in the past, also attempted to remove certain outlets from the White House briefing room and banned recordings of the briefings.
The Trump administration also continues to use the phrase “fake news”—introduced after the election specifically to describe propaganda pieces produced by Russian forces in their attempt to interfere with the election—to describe media coverage he does not agree with, and in particular that does not depict him how he wishes.
In other words: This attack on the media comes as less of a surprise than its timing.
In June, Trump lashed out at MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinksi on Twitter, calling Scarborough “psycho Joe” and Brzezinksi “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and adding that he had seen the pair over New Years and that Mika “was bleeding badly from a face-lift.” During this incident, Scarborough and Brzezinksi revealed that the National Enquirer was attempting to blackmail and extort Brzezinksi—threatening to do damaging reporting on her if she and Scarborough did not apologize to the President personally for their negative coverage of him.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle immediately criticized Trump for his sexist tweet, but when deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was questioned about it on Fox News, she responded by saying that the president will not “be bullied,” and that he “fights fire with fire.” This “fire” did not die out.
After more tweets bashing Morning Joe and its hosts, Trump decided to tweet a video depicting him tackling a person with the CNN logo superimposed over their face. The tweet was captioned “#FraudNewsCNN #FNN.” It was the President’s most popular tweet since the election, and he never deleted it.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017
Almost more troubling than the tweet—which many felt advocated for attacks on journalists and signified an attack on the free press—is where Trump found it. According to The Washington Post, the original video was found on a reddit thread called “The Donald” and posted by a user who has populated the thread with racist comments.
In July, Donald Trump Jr. echoed his father’s sentiments when he re-tweeted another edited video in which President Trump’s face is super-imposed over Tom Cruise’ in a fight scene from Top Gun. As Trump repeats his infamous “you’re fired” line, he shoots down a plane with the CNN logo on it. Trump Jr. called the video “One of the best I’ve seen.”
It is extremely worrisome that the President is depicting the media as an enemy to his office and the American people. The media is an essential part of our democracy, and its rights are enshrined in our founding documents. And now, more than ever, their role in reporting truth and fact could not be more pivotal.