HARRISBURG, Pa. — President Trump was here to celebrate the achievements of his first 100 days in office, but first, he had a few words to say about the news media — more than a few words, actually.
Taking the stage at a farm expo center here before a packed crowd of several thousand people in a key swing state he won last November, Trump spent the first quarter of his speech — nearly 15 minutes — railing against the “incompetent, dishonest” media that he claimed had been “purposely negative” about his first months in office.
“If the media’s job is to be honest, they deserve a big, fat failing grade,” Trump declared in a scathing rant that prompted his supporters to turn around and boo reporters on the scene to cover his remarks.
What seemed like every grievance Trump has held against reporters spilled forth. He called CNN and MSNBC, two of his favorite targets, “fake news.” The “failing New York Times,” a paper that Trump has given repeated interviews to since he won the election last November, was struggling so badly it was “starting to look like a comic book,” he insisted — though the paper has reported a jump in subscriptions since he took office.
He repeatedly attacked the media as “out of touch” with the concerns of everyday Americans and questioned why any reporter had any right to judge him. After three months of speeches in which Trump had continued to relive last year’s election and rail against onetime rival Hillary Clinton, the president had finally settled on a new foe: reporters.
Saturday’s rally was Trump’s latest attempt to offer counterprogramming to his perceived opponents, a card he regularly played during the 2016 campaign. In this case, Trump’s target was the hundreds of political journalists gathered in Washington for the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. On Saturday, Trump became the first president in 36 years to skip the dinner, eschewing reporters he has regularly attacked as “fake media” and even the “enemy of the American people” amid his constant complaints of unfair coverage.
(The last president to skip the event was Ronald Reagan in 1981, when he was recovering from an assassination attempt, though he still managed to call in and deliver a few jokes. “If I could give you just one little bit of advice,” Reagan said from Camp David, the presidential retreat, “when somebody tells you to get in a car quick, do it.”)
Attendees take their seats at the start of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.View photos
Speaking to supporters here, Trump bragged about ditching the dinner, which funds scholarships for journalism students, describing it as a gathering of “Hollywood actors and Washington media … consoling each other in a hotel ballroom.”
“I could not possibly be more thrilled to be more than 100 miles away from Washington spending my evening with all of you, a much larger crowd and better people,” Trump declared, adding that the dinner was probably “very, very boring.”
It wasn’t the first time the TV-savvy politician has tried to split-screen another prominent event. In January 2016, just days before the Iowa caucuses, Trump abruptly scheduled a “fundraiser” for veterans to run at the same time as a Fox News GOP primary debate he boycotted over a feud with the network’s Megyn Kelly. And last July, he held rallies during the Democratic National Convention, including on the night of Clinton’s acceptance speech, in an attempt to draw away viewers.
The WHCA dinner, which is also attended by a mix of politicians, celebrities, lobbyists, advertisers and others in the news, has long been viewed as a lighthearted night where the president can roast reporters and vice versa. But for the thin-skinned Trump, it was also the scene of a eviscerating takedown in 2011, when then-President Barack Obama openly mocked the New York billionaire’s political ambitions.
Trump, who at the time was the leading voice on conspiracy theories that Obama was not born in the U.S., was visibly furious. And though Trump has repeatedly denied that he was embarrassed or angry, the episode is said to have cemented the businessman’s determination to seek the presidency and avenge his critics, including Obama.
That desire to prove those who underestimate him wrong has been a driving force for Trump for his entire adult life — from his entry into the gilded world of Manhattan real estate to his unlikely path to the presidency. And perhaps it’s why Trump continues to live in the past — spending at least part of his remarks Saturday night, as he often does in public speeches, relitigating the 2016 election in what seems to be an infinite desire for credit for stunning the world with his surprise victory last year. “Their predictions were so bad,” Trump said of the media, accusing them of pulling for Clinton last year. [/restrict]