WASHINGTON (AP) — Grappling with a wave of election-season violence, President Donald Trump escalated his rhetoric against the news media on Monday even as he made plans for a somber visit to Pennsylvania to mourn a synagogue massacre that left 11 dead.
Days after the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue and a mail-bomb scare targeting prominent Democrats and CNN, Trump argued that “fraudulent” reporting was contributing to anger in the country and declared that the press was the “true Enemy of the People.”
He complained Monday night that his comments had been misconstrued and that he had only been referring to the “Fake News (Media).” Trump has labeled a long list of media outlets “fake news” and often applies the moniker to stories he doesn’t like.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders continued in the same vein at a press briefing, saying: “The very first action that the president did was condemn these heinous acts. The very first thing that the media did was condemn the president, go after him, try to place blame.”
While Trump has condemned the Pennsylvania shootings as an anti-Semitic act and has decried political violence, he also has continued his political schedule over the past week and largely kept up his criticism against Democrats and the media. The White House has rejected any suggestion that the president’s harsh rhetoric contributed to the toxic moment.
And Sanders made clear Trump was unlikely to change course, saying the president will “continue to fight back” against critics.
Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Tuesday with first lady Melania Trump. Sanders said Trump would go “to express the support of the American people and to grieve with the Pittsburgh community.”
The White House did not immediately provide further details on Trump’s trip, which drew mixed reactions in Pittsburgh.
Leaders of a liberal Jewish group in Pittsburgh penned an open letter to Trump before the White House announced the plans, saying he was not welcome in the city until he denounced white nationalism. But Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, of the Tree of Life synagogue, made clear he would be welcome, telling CNN: “The President of the United States is always welcome. I am a citizen. He is my president. He is certainly welcome.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat, told reporters ahead of the announcement that the White House should consult with the families of the victims about their preferences and asked that the president not come during a funeral.
“If the President is looking to come to Pittsburgh, I would ask that he not do so while we are burying the dead. Our attention and our focus is going to be on them, and we don’t have public safety that we can take away from what is needed in order to do both,” Peduto said.
The White House did not immediately respond to the mayor’s request. Asked if Trump has done enough to condemn white nationalism, Sanders said he “has denounced racism, hatred and bigotry in all forms on a number of occasions.”
She added: “Some individuals — they’re grieving, they’re hurting. The president wants to be there to show the support of this administration for the Jewish community. The rabbi said that he is welcome as well.”
Throughout his Republican campaign and presidency, Trump has been an unrelenting critic of the media. Last week, the New York offices of CNN, the cable network frequently criticized by Trump and his supporters, was evacuated after receiving an explosive device and an envelope containing white powder.
CNN President Jeff Zucker said another suspicious package addressed to CNN was intercepted Monday at an Atlanta post office.
With eight days to go before the midterm elections, Trump has continued to hold his political rallies, complete with harsh criticism of Democrats and the media. He is planning an aggressive campaign schedule during the final days leading up to the Nov. 6 elections.
Trump complained Monday night that “CNN and others in the Fake News Business” were “purposely and inaccurately reporting” that he’d called the media the “Enemy of the People.”
“Wrong! I said that the ‘Fake News (Media) is the Enemy of the People,’ a very big difference,” he said.
At a rally Saturday night, Trump was somewhat muted but still offered his standard campaign attack lines against critics including Democrat Hillary Clinton and Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, both of whom were targeted in the bomb plot. On Twitter on Sunday, he savaged billionaire businessman Tom Steyer, another target of the mail bombs, as a “crazed & stumbling lunatic.”
For AP’s complete coverage of the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings: