When President Donald Trump said Tuesday in an impromptu press conference that there “was blame on both sides” for Saturday’s violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the mainstream media erupted in a maelstrom of outrage and condemned the president as a “racist.”
The white supremacist rally, which left one woman dead and 20 others injured over the weekend, brought a violent clash between protesters decrying the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue and counterprotesters claiming the statue of the Confederate hero was long overdue for removal. On Saturday, the president blamed “many sides” for the ensuing violence before issuing a follow-up statement Monday in which he specifically called out the white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups for their racial hatred.
But when Trump addressed the media’s impromptu questions about his Charlottesville responses during a Tuesday press conference that was supposed to focus solely on infrastructure, he incurred reporters’ wrath for insisting that extremists from both the Alt-Left and Alt-Right deserve blame for the weekend violence.
“On Monday, [Trump] seemed to be accepting advice to end the discussion by criticizing the racist groups,” Rich Noyes, research director for the Media Research Center (MRC), told LifeZette. “You know, that would have been the end of it. By revisiting the issue yesterday, the media saw that as he wasn’t sincere the first day — even though he said basically the same things on Tuesday as he said on Monday — and felt that sort of gave them license to be extremely negative and extremely critical.”
In the aftermath of Trump’s press conference, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough claimed that Trump has become “the president” of “the white nationalist movement” who “held up a stop sign and stopped history in its tracks.”
CNN anchor Poppy Harlow asked a reporter on “New Day” if Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan meant resurrecting the days that the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists terrorized African-Americans without consequences.
MSNBC political analyst Nicolle Wallace claimed on “Morning Joe” that Trump “has now given safe harbor to Nazis” and “to white supremacists.”
CNN anchor Don Lemon said on “New Day” that “anyone who is in that White House and who is supporting [Trump] is complicit in their racism as well.”
Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer argued on Fox News’ “Special Report” that Trump’s Tuesday press conference was “a moral disgrace,” saying that Trump “reverted back to Saturday” and undermined his strong Monday statement because the sentiment of it wasn’t really “in his heart.”
An MSNBC chyron even read, “Trump defiantly defends white nationalists, provoking fury.”
Arguing that MSNBC glossed over the “nuances” of Trump’s comments by claiming he was “defending” white nationalists, Noyes said Trump “was trying to apportion blame to different actors,” noting that extremists on both the Left and the Right contributed to the Charlottesville violence.
“And that’s what, I think, if [the media] really thought about it, that’s what bothered them, that it wasn’t a full-throated condemnation [of white nationalists] undiluted,” he said, noting that prominent Republicans also bashed Trump and asked him to avoid putting “some of the blame off the white supremacists.”
“That is probably a fair criticism, that [Trump] was being too nuanced for the message he was trying to deliver,” Noyes said. “On the other hand, that’s not the same thing as saying that he was defending these groups or supporting those groups or doing anything of the kind. He wasn’t doing that. He was just maybe diluting it more than they wanted to hear.”
It’s nothing new for the president to be engaged in one emotional spat after another with the mainstream media. Throughout his campaign, Trump railed against the mainstream media’s inherent “bias” against him and his policies. Dubbing outlets such as CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and MSNBC to be “fake news media” outlets, Trump has called them out repeatedly both on Twitter and in remarks.
In return, media outlets and pundits called Trump racist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, and anti-immigrant, among other pejorative terms, for his incendiary rhetoric and populist policies. Those labels followed him into his presidency and proceeded to color the mainstream media’s coverage of the president and his administration.
“I think the media have lost objectivity with Trump a long time ago. I mean, even back during the campaign, his coverage was running 90 percent negative,” Noyes said. “And I think they regarded this, you know, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday as just the latest example of what they see as his unfitness for the office.”
“They take what he says, they impute the darkest motives to it, and then hold him accountable for what they imagine he really means in his heart, as opposed to what he actually said to them,” he said.
Noting that Trump “doesn’t speak like a regular politician” and speaks “much more forthrightly and candidly about what he’s thinking,” Noyes said the media put Trump’s statements “through their own filter and attack him for what they think he meant, as opposed to what he actually said.”
“It is unfair,” he added, “and part of the problem is you’ve got this liberal media hostility that’s been there all along.”
The fault does go both ways, however, as Noyes noted. Whereas the media often love to jump to conclusions about Trump and his intentions and often misconstrue what he actually says, the president and his communications team often don’t do themselves any favors, either.
“You know, I think the White House needs to take that into account in their messaging — that what they say is going to be distorted and put through that kind of meat grinder,” Noyes said. “On the other hand, the media shouldn’t be doing that. They need to be doing the who, what, when and where in actually reporting the news. Then they can get around to analyzing it and talking about what it means.”
“But they want to jump right to the criticism … without getting the underlying facts right,” he added.
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Even CNN anchor Jake Tapper admitted that Trump faces a far more hostile media than former President Barack Obama enjoyed during the previous administration. In a Rolling Stone interview published Tuesday, Tapper noted that “President Obama said things that weren’t true and got away with it more for a variety of reasons, and one is [that] the media was much more supportive of him.”
In the age of Trump, it’s important the media make a good-faith effort to cover the president as fairly as possible — if not for accuracy’s sake, then at least for the country’s sake, experts like Noyes say.
“If you listen to the liberal media this week, they’re talking about a divided country. They’re talking about [how] fierce rhetoric is driving people into the corners. Well, that’s what bad reporting does,” Noyes said. “You need to lower the temperature by reporting these things accurately and, you know, let the statement stand for itself.”
In Tuesday’s much-maligned comments, Trump criticized the Alt-Right ideologies that exhibit racial hatred in the form of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. He even called the white nationalist driver who plowed his car into a group of counterprotesters and killed one woman a “murderer.”
But because the president also had the gall to criticize the violent, extremist Alt-Left counterprotesters who also showed up in Charlottesville at the same time that he criticized the Alt-Right protesters, the media ran with their narrative.
“[Trump] said all the right things about the sort of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist, KKK side. He merely added the criticism of the left-wing groups that were there, which shouldn’t be seen as that remarkable,” Noyes said.
“It’s not the same thing as defending those groups. Refusing to take his words at face value, I think, is helping to raise the temperature and make this into a bigger deal than it needs to be,” he concluded. “And somebody’s got to take a step to lower the temperature. And I think a helpful thing would be sort of sober, nonsensational reporting.”