One day before the midterm election, President Trump said “I would like to have a much softer tone.” One day after the election, he snapped at the White House press corps, called reporters “rude” for asking questions, and made baseless claims about political polling.
“Such a hostile media. It’s so sad,” he said, keeping up his years-long campaign against the people who cover him.
Trump’s most contentious exchange was with Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent. Afterward, CNN said in a statement, “This President’s ongoing attacks on the press have gone too far. They are not only dangerous, they are disturbingly un-American.”
“While President Trump has made it clear he does not respect a free press, he has a sworn obligation to protect it,” CNN added. “A free press is vital to democracy, and we stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere.”
The press conference was shown live on CNN and all the other cable news channels and broadcast networks. Media critics and Democrats said Trump’s combative streak — telling reporters to “sit down” and insulting some of them — might be part of a strategy to deflect attention from Democratic victories in the midterms.
“Trump wants to make the story him vs the media not him getting his ass kicked in the House. This press conference is playing right into that narrative,” former Obama aide Tommy Vietor tweeted.
Trump’s treatment of the press varied from one minute to the next. As at prior press conferences, he showed contempt for reporters one minute, complaining about questioners “jumping out of their seats screaming questions at me,” then suggested he was enjoying the back and forth.
“Should we keep this going for a little while?” he asked, one hour into the session, prompting some of the reporters to say “yes!”
When a reporter from a Japanese news outlet asked a question, Trump said, “say hello to Shinzo,” referring to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The press conference threw into stark relief the different styles of different White House correspondents. Some, like April Ryan, tried to ask questions without being explicitly called on.
“Sit down please,” Trump said to her. “Sit down. I didn’t call you, I didn’t call you, I didn’t call you.”
Ryan was trying to ask about voter suppression concerns. In response, Trump falsely said that CNN’s polls were a form of suppression.
Trump frequently condemns so-called “suppression polls,” alluding to a conspiracy theory that claims news outlets distort polling results to discourage people from voting. He brought up the idea again later in the press conference, despite a lack of evidence for the idea.
Trump called on Acosta early in the press conference. Acosta has become both well-liked and oft-criticized for his aggressive questioning of the Trump White House.
“Thank you, Mr. President,” Acosta said when Trump called on him. “I want to challenge you on one of the statements that you made in the tail end of the campaign.”
Trump leaned into the mic: “Here we go.”
Acosta brought up the migrants traveling from Central America toward the US southern border, and the racist ad referring to them that the Trump campaign released last week.
“As you know, Mr. President, the caravan is not an invasion,” Acosta said. “It’s a group of migrants moving up from Central America towards the border with the US–”
Trump, sarcastically, replied, “Thank you for telling me that, I appreciate it.”
Acosta: “Why did you characterize it as such?”
“Because I consider it an invasion. You and I have a difference of opinion.”
“But do you think that you demonized immigrants?”
“No, not at all. I want them to come into the country. But they have to come in legally.”
That’s what the migrants are trying to do — they say they intend to seek asylum.
Acosta called out the misleading ad and said, “They’re hundreds of miles away, though. They’re hundreds and hundreds of miles away. That’s not an invasion.”
“You know what? I think you should,” Trump started to say, pointing at Acosta. “Honestly, I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN. And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Trump said as Acosta tried to ask another question.
A White House staffer hurried over to grab the mic and carry it to the next reporter Trump chose, NBC’s Peter Alexander.
“If I may ask one other question, are you worried–”
Acosta tried to point out that other reporters had also asked multiple questions.
“That’s enough,” Trump said.
The White House staffer tried to grab the mic from Acosta, but he held onto it.
“Pardon me, ma’am,” he said, as she looked toward Trump, then ducked out of camera view.
“Peter, let’s go,” Trump said, trying to move on to Alexander.
“If I can ask, on the Russia investigation,” Acosta said, “are you concerned that you may have indictments coming down–”
“I am not concerned about anything with the Russian investigation because it is a hoax,” Trump said, “That is enough, put down the mic.”
Trump backed away from the podium for a moment, signaling he was done, while Acosta asked the question again and then let go of the mic.
While Alexander started to ask his question, Trump said, “I tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them.” He pointed at Acosta. “You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”
Then he turned to Alexander: “Go ahead.” But he turned his focus back to Acosta: “You are a very rude person, the way that you treat Sarah Huckabee Sanders is horrible. The way that you treat other people are horrible. You shouldn’t treat people that way.”
“Go ahead,” Trump said to Alexander, who spoke up in Acosta’s defense: “I’ve traveled with him and watched him, he is a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us.”
“Well I’m not a big fan of yours either, to be honest,” Trump said, prompting laughs in the room. He disparages NBC almost as often as CNN.
“So let me ask you a question,” Alexander said, not missing a beat.
Acosta stood back up and spoke. His comments were not totally audible on live TV, but Acosta could be heard asking about the dangers of Trump’s anti-media attacks, like the use of the term “enemy of the people.”
“When you report fake news, which CNN does, a lot, you are the enemy of the people,” Trump said, turning back to Alexander.
The press conference lasted 1 hour and 26 minutes.
On social media, a number of people thanked Acosta for trying to hold the president accountable for his words and deeds.
But others condemned the correspondent. Some Trump boosters said his credentials should be revoked.