The US President, speaking in Phoenix on Tuesday, said the media were “dishonest” in their portrayal of his response to the white supremacist protest in Virginia that led to the death of Heather Heyer earlier this month.
The comments came during a meandering 77-minute speech in which Trump hinted that he would pardon controversial sheriff Joe Arpaio, threatened to pull out of NAFTA, and said he might shut down the government if Congress does not fund a wall on the Mexican border.
“The only thing giving a platform to these hate groups is the media itself and the fake news,” Trump said, accusing the media “of trying to take away the history and our heritage”.
“I really think they don’t like our country. I really believe that,” he added.
The comments were quickly seized upon by journalists and commentators who expressed frustration that Trump has not “denounced neo-Nazis with the passion and sincerity with which he excoriates journalists”.
Trump reread some of his initial response to the rally, notably omitting the phrase “on many sides,” which he used to describe groups inciting violence in Charlottesville. Trump specifically called out antifa suggesting his initial response to the violence at the white supremacist protest was directed at them.
His response to Charlottesville, Trump told crowds in Phoenix, was “perfect”.
“You know where my heart is,” Trump told the crowd.
Trump went on to attack his favourite targets, the New York Times and The Washington Post and called out ABC’s George Stephanopoulos before lamenting the firing of pro-Trump CNN commentator Jeffrey Lord.
Trump argued he’s better than the journalists who cover him.
“I went to better schools than they did. I was a better student than they were,” Trump said, referring to what he called the “elite” media, whom he said were “dishonest” and “bad people”.
Just after claiming his “movement is built on love,” Trump motioned to journalists covering the rally and paused while the crowd booed.
“I love all the people of our country,” Trump said.
One media organisation not in the firing line was Fox News, who Trump said “treated me fairly”.
The contentious spirit of Trump’s speech was reflected in the atmosphere outside, where thousands of supporters and opponents gathered, separated by police onto opposite sides of the street.
To those who’d gathered to oppose Trump’s rally in the wake of the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, his attacks against the media sounded like a tired talking point.
“I’m not at all surprised that he’d be saying that,” Darryl Griffith, 37, told HuffPost. “It’s his classic go-to line.”
Another protester, disturbed both by the violence in Charlottesville and the president’s reactions to it, felt exasperated that Trump would continue to harp on divisive messages. “I’ll never find myself getting to the point where I’m not shocked anymore,” Terry Reeung told HuffPost. “It has to end. And it will end.”
But some of those who came to cheer Trump on sympathised with his attacks on the press. Daniel Webster, 42, said mainstream media unfairly characterize the 63 million people who voted for the president as “racist.”