U.S. President Donald Trump’s war against the media reached new heights this week as he criticized the press as “fake, fake, disgusting news” and described journalists as “horrible, horrendous people” despite warnings that his vitriol could put lives in danger.
Speaking in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. at the 10,000-capacity Mohegan Sun Arena on Thursday, Trump spent nearly 20 minutes sounding off on his complaints against the press, including coverage of his 2016 election victory against Hillary Clinton, his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, dealings with NATO, and his trip to the U.K. and meeting with the Queen.
“Whatever happened to the free press? Whatever happened to honest reporting?” Trump asked as the crowd screamed and jeered at the press held in a pen near the back of the arena. “They don’t report it. They only make up stories.”
“They can make anything bad. Because they are the fake, fake, disgusting news,” Trump said.
Thursday’s attacks against the press followed on the heels of a raucous rally in Florida with chants of “fake news” and Trump’s repeated description of the media as “enemies of the people” meant to stoke anger and resentment.
Video showed CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta being berated as a “liar” and “traitor” by Trump supporters, who shoved middle fingers in his face and wore shirts with slogans such as, “f**k the media.”
WATCH: CNN reporter heckled at Trump rally
Trump’s attacks were condemned by members of the media as well as politicians and even drew a direct response from the United Nations.
“We cannot allow ourselves to shrug off President Trump’s attacks on the press. Ever. They are undemocratic and are at the point of inviting, even inciting, violence,” said veteran journalist Dan Rather in a social media post. “If violence ever comes to the press in this environment, President Trump will be personally accountable.”
Two experts on freedom of expression, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye and Edison Lanza with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said the attacks “run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law.”
“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” the experts said in a joint statement. “Two years is two years too much, and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks.”
“We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.”
WATCH: Trump calls media ‘horrible, horrendous people’
The publisher of the New York Times also revealed this week that he personally warned the White House that the president’s verbal attacks could provoke violence and place lives in danger.
“I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press,” said A.G. Sulzberger.
The response came after Trump tweeted a claim that they had discussed the rise of fake news.
“Had a very good and interesting meeting at the White House with AG Sulzberger, Publisher of the New York Times,” he wrote. “Spent much time talking about the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media & how that Fake News has morphed into phrase, ‘Enemy of the People.’ Sad!”
As previously reported, Trump’s favourite term is widely being parroted around the world by authoritarian leaders from Syria, Myanmar, Venezuela and China to downplay atrocities and human rights violations.
Ironically, Trump’s embrace of the “enemy of the people” comes with a toxic history used by dictators “for the purpose of physically annihilating” individuals, according to the New York Times.
Here’s what else happened in fake news this week:
- Social media giant Facebook says it uncovered “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” ahead of the United States midterm elections and believes it could be linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian-based group with ties to the Kremlin. The social media giant removed 32 pages and accounts aimed at trying to stoke political divisions in the U.S.
- A bizarre internet conspiracy reached the mainstream after attendees at a Trump rally were seen wearing T-shirts and signs touting the QAnon conspiracy theory. From unsubstantiated stories about child sex-trafficking involving Hollywood A-listers to Trump’s battle with the “deep state,” this right-wing conspiracy has it all.
- Faced with a deadly fake news problem in India, the messaging service WhatsApp is taking dramatic steps to curb the problem of beatings and lynchings caused by child trafficking rumours spread across the service. Time reports that WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has added a setting that would reduce the number of people a message can be forwarded to in India from 100 to 5. It also removed a “quick forward” button that appears next to messages containing photos, video or audio and introduced a “suspicious link” label, which appears alongside problematic links.
- In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford is using taxpayer dollars to fund the production of partisan TV news-style videos for the PC government. The widely criticized videos also come as reporters questioned tactics from the PCs designed to limit questions during press conferences.
- A man arrested for destroying Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame will not lose his right to vote for the rest of his life, as claimed in a report circulating widely online. A story on YourNewsWire says Austin Clay, 24, “has been charged with felony vandalism and is set to be banned from voting for the rest of his life” for demolishing Trump’s star with a pickax. Clay was booked on suspicion of felony vandalism July 25 by the Los Angeles Police Department. Even if he was convicted and sentenced to serve time in jail in California, he would still be able to vote.
- Chipotle did not give away $100 gift cards for National Avocado Day on Tuesday, or any other day despite an offer which circulated widely on social media last week. The false offer provided a link that took users to a page that read “National Avocado Day Get a $100 Chipotle Card.”
*With files from the Associated Press