Just Which Outlets Are Trump’s ‘Enemy’? By His Definition, There Are Many

President Donald Trump speaks about the arrest in the mail bomb scare at the 2018 Young Black Leadership Summit in the East Room of the White House, in WashingtonTrump Explosive Devices, Washington, USA - 26 Oct 2018
Andrew Harnik/AP/REX

President Trump sent out a couple of tweets Monday pushing back on the idea that he’s called the media the “enemy of the people.”

It’s the “fake news” media, he specified. “A very big difference.”

“Check out tweets from last two days. I refer to Fake News Media when mentioning Enemy of the People – but dishonest reporters use only the word ‘Media,'” he wrote. “The people of our Great Country are angry and disillusioned at receiving so much Fake News. They get it, and fully understand!”

It’s a distinction that has been pointed out by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, as well as other administration figures. In a response to questions from Democrats in Congress last year, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said that he did not agree that the media was the “enemy of the people,” but also noted that Trump was referring to the “fake news” media.

So if fake news media = enemy of the people, which outlets fall into that category?

Quite a few. The first time that Trump used the phrase, “enemy of the American people,” he identified the New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, and CNN. He’s also called the Washington Post “fake news” several times. In a Sept. 16 tweet, he characterized all of mainstream media as “fake news.”

“Watch @MariaBartiromo at 6:00 P.M. on @FoxBusiness. Russian Hoax the big topic! Mainstream Media, often referred to as the Fake News Media, hates to discuss the real facts!” he tweeted.

In the aftermath of the discovery of mail bombs sent to CNN and top Democrats and the shooting massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Trump has been blaming the media for the toxic political atmosphere, as attention focuses on the president’s own past rhetoric. His media attacks are a central feature of his rallies and almost always whip up the crowd.

But it’s one thing to make a sweeping, undefined attack on the “fake news” media as the “enemy of the people,” and another to point out specific grievances about specific stories on specific outlets. That gives the outlets an opportunity to respond, and it makes the attack line far less potent as we head into the midterms.

At the White House press briefing on Monday, CNN’s Jim Acosta pressed Sanders on just which outlets Trump was referring to when he was using the phrase “enemy of the people.” He noted that his outlet was sent mail bombs in the past week.

She demurred, but suggested that it didn’t necessarily mean an entire media organization. “I don’t think it’s necessarily specific to a general — broad generalization of a full outlet,” she said. “At times, I think there are individuals that the President would be referencing.”

Acosta continued to press her, asking, “If you’re going to stand there and continue to say that there are some journalists, some news outlets in this country that meet that characterization, shouldn’t you have the guts, Sarah, to state which outlets, which journalists are the enemy of the people?”

Sanders replied, “I think it’s irresponsible of a news organization like yours to blame responsibility of a pipe bomb that was not sent by the President — not just blame the President, but blame members of his administration for those heinous acts.  I think that is outrageous, and I think it’s irresponsible.”

CNN responded on Twitter, “No @PressSec, CNN did not say @realDonaldTrump was directly responsible for the bomb sent to our office by his ardent and emboldened supporter. We did say that he, and you, should understand your words matter. Every single one of them. But so far, you don’t seem to get that.”

Words do matter, but Trump and his team prefer the power of sweeping statements over specific citations.