Donald Trump’s News Session Starts War With and Within Media
He deemed BuzzFeed News “a failing pile of garbage,” mocked an inquiry about his tax returns — “Gee, I’ve never heard that one before” — and, in an unheard-of moment for a presidential news conference, shouted at a CNN reporter, declaring, with some menace, “Not you.”
“Your organization is terrible,” said President-elect Donald J. Trump, his voice rising as CNN’s Jim Acosta tried to interject. “No, I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question.”
“You,” the president-elect said, as Mr. Acosta and other stunned journalists looked on, “are fake news.”
Any hope that Mr. Trump would temper his attacks on the news media after the campaign seemed to evaporate in the marble atrium of Trump Tower on Wednesday, as the president-elect, holding his first news conference since July, turned a scandal about his ties to Russia into a deft and unrelenting attack on the journalists who reported it.
Mr. Trump’s stonewalling of CNN — a routine target of the president-elect and his supporters — stemmed from a report by the network that intelligence officials had briefed President Obama and Mr. Trump on a document alleging ties between the Russian government and Mr. Trump’s campaign.
But while CNN declined to publish the specific allegations, saying its reporters could not verify them, BuzzFeed News published the full document, though it acknowledged that the claims were unverified. Mr. Trump and his aides did not distinguish between the two outlets and derided the “irresponsible decision of a few news organizations to run with a false and unsubstantiated report,” as Vice President-elect Mike Pence said.
The result was classic Trump: Even as he broke the norms of presidential engagement with the media, snubbing news outlets because of an unflattering story, he also prompted an internecine battle to break out within the press corps.
CNN robustly defended its reporting and drew a sharp distinction between its news report and “BuzzFeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos.” On air, the CNN anchor Jake Tapper declared that BuzzFeed’s move “hurts us all.”
Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor in chief, said, “We’re not going to participate in an attempt to divide the media against each other.’’ In an internal memo, the chief executive, Jonah H. Peretti, told staff members that the site stood by its decision to publish the document.
In an odd bit of merchandising, the site then began selling a limited-edition trash can on its website, along with a shirt reading “Failing Pile of Garbage.”
So while press defenders lamented Mr. Trump’s behavior, saying it might augur an alarming new era of media suppression by the White House, the news media remained divided.
Afterward, Mr. Acosta appeared on the air to discuss his run-in with Mr. Trump.
“At the beginning of that news conference, Donald Trump indicated that he was not going to call on me or call on CNN,’’ Mr. Acosta said. “He sort of pointed at me at one point and then waved his hand as if ‘you’re not going to get a question.’ And then, as the news conference went on, as you heard, he was attacking this news organization repeatedly, and I felt it was only fair that if our news organization is going to be attacked, that we get a chance to ask a follow-up question about what Donald Trump was talking about.”
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