Politics

At CPAC, Trump Delivers a Journalism Lecture — and a Threat

POTUS hits anonymous sources after ‘senior administration official’ briefs reporters

President Donald Trump tossed the friendly crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference plenty of red meat on Friday. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donald Trump on Friday issued a blistering attack on news organizations he dubbed “fake news,” appearing to threaten those outlets and again calling them an “enemy of the people.”

The president’s latest broadside on the media came a few hours after he attacked the FBI with two morning tweets for an alleged inability to stop and find individuals within the government — including in its own ranks — that leak sensitive information to news outlets.

“We are fighting the fake news,” the president told the audience at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, calling news reports about his administration that use anonymous sources as “phony.”

Media outlets who have published such pieces “are the enemy of the people,” Trump said. “They have no sources, they just make them up when there are none. … The fake news is the enemy of the people.”

[White House Official: FBI Said Trump-Russia Story is ‘BS’]

Since Trump first uttered that phrase a week ago, he accused journalists of altering his meaning: “They take the word ‘fake’ out. … That’s the way they are.”

“I'm not against the media, I’m not against the press,” he said, declaring himself against media outlets that “make up” stories and use sources he contends do not exist.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless their name is put out there,” Trump said of articles using information and quotes from anonymous individuals.

(Media outlets, including Roll Call, use anonymous sources to allow individuals with information they deem important to public discourse and policymaking to allow them to be candid and protect them when they fear retribution, for instance, from an employer.)

Trump’s CPAC Address in Three Minutes

Trump has himself used anonymous sources to make political waves — and boost his standing among Republican voters. As he spoke at CPAC, an August 2012 tweet from Trump began circulating. In it, Trump cites an “extremely credible source” in claiming former President Barack Obama's birth certificate “is a fraud.”

Trump did say there are plenty of “talented” and fair reporters, but told the friendly audience a lot of stories would “dry up” if media organizations could not use anonymous sources.

[Bannon, Priebus Deny Talk of Tension Inside White House]

Notably, about an hour before he spoke in Oxon Hill, Md., the White House conducted a briefing — and instructed reporters to attribute it to a “senior administration official” — about recent conversations between Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the top two senior FBI officials about stories of contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian agents.

In a potentially chilling remark, Trump appeared to issue a threat to organizations that publish reports with anonymous sources disclosing unflattering information about his presidency.

“The fake news doesn’t tell the truth,” he said. “It doesn’t represent the people, it never will represent the people. We’re going to do something about it.”

Trump did not say what he intends to do, however.

Other highlights from Trump’s much-anticipated CPAC address, which included lots of red meat for his conservative audience:

  • His administration “will be putting in a massive budget request for our military,” vowing to enhance its offensive and defensive capabilities. “Nobody’s going to mess with us, nobody,” he said, promising one of the biggest and “greatest” military buildups in U.S. history.
  • “Oh, we’re building the wall,” he said after an audience member yelled for that. “It’s going to start soon, way ahead of schedule,” Trump said, adding he also will eject “bad dudes” from the country. How his administration will find the billions of dollars needed to fund it remains unclear, however.
  • As his administration and congressional Republicans work on — potentially separate — plans to replace the 2010 health law, Trump said “we’re changing it” before a minute later vowing to replace it. “We’re going to make it much better,” he said, referring to the Obama administration’s law.

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