President Trump has made CNN one of his favorite punching bags on Twitter, calling the network “fake news,” “garbage journalism” and “the worst.” He has tweeted a video clip of him in a WWE wrestling match tackling a figure with a CNN logo superimposed on the head. He has retweeted — and then deleted — an image of a Trump train running over a CNN reporter.
As Anderson Cooper said on Monday, the criticism is “frankly something that we’ve come to expect” at CNN.
But Trump’s most recent attack on CNN seems to have especially aggravated the network, prompting what appeared to be an organized response from some of its most prominent journalists, including Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, Christiane Amanpour and Brooke Baldwin.
The response followed several days of tweets by Trump including:
It was the first tweet, the apparent assault on the work of CNN International correspondents abroad, that marked a breaking point for many CNN journalists. To them, Trump’s words undermined and threatened the work of colleagues in the field risking their lives amid war zones, natural disasters and other dangerous environments to report the truth.
CNN’s public relations department responded to Trump’s tweet within minutes: “It’s not CNN’s job to represent the U.S. to the world. That’s yours. Our job is to report the news.”
And on Monday, the network dedicated significant airtime to rebuking Trump.
“We have thick skin here at CNN,” host Anderson Cooper said Monday. “We can handle criticism, but we’ll damn sure call it out when it’s a lie.”
“His assault against a free press, a free press that stands up to him, will not stop us or any other legitimate news organization,” Cooper said. “It won’t stop my colleagues around the world who put their lives on the line to do their work, to report.”
He went on to spotlight the work of veteran international correspondents Ben Wedeman, one of the first Western journalists inside Libya covering the removal of dictator Moammar Gaddafi, and Arwa Damon, whose group was under siege in Mosul, Iraq, for more than 28 hours in November 2016.
In his Monday broadcast, anchor Wolf Blitzer introduced a nearly five-minute montage of clips showing CNN correspondents covering war and strife in places such as Afghanistan, Syria, Niger, Libya and the Philippines.
“The relentless pursuit of the truth and the outright rejection of any attack against it is something we still hold sacred, always will,” Blitzer said. “No matter how many insults or blatant assaults on the press and its freedom, this pursuit is something for which we will never bend nor break. Even the loudest critics can’t silence the facts.”
“CNN and CNN International are not sponsored by any state, nor any autocrat, or any political organization, and despite the constant criticism from the president, we are unwavering in our mission, free and independent as the press should be,” he added.
In another segment moderated by host Brooke Baldwin, Wedeman and fellow senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward spoke of the threats presented by Trump’s tweet.
Beyond being “disheartening,” Trump’s assault “emboldens” people in foreign countries who may already show hostility toward Western journalists, Ward said. What may come across as a joke in the United States could be life-threatening to reporters in the field, she said.
“It sends a message very clearly that even our own president is volubly and publicly disparaging us,” Ward said. “It’s open season on journalists.”
Wedemen spoke of a photo he shared on Twitter showing his bloody face after he was struck by a rubber bullet while reporting on clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces in the summer of 2014.
In 2000, he was hospitalized for months after being twice shot in the back while reporting in the Gaza Strip. Four years later, also in the Gaza Strip, he was stopped by gunmen who kidnapped his team’s producer, Wedeman said.
“This is a dangerous job,” Wedeman said. “I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I believe in the importance of the work…. I would beg the president … to understand just how dangerous this job is.”
Wedeman added that he has reported in countries in the Middle East where regimes are hostile toward American journalists and have set out to harm or threaten them.
In the past, Wedeman said, “they were always hesitant to really unleash some of the brutal force they had behind them because they knew that the power of the United States was behind us, that the president of the United States supported the American media,” Wedeman said.
But now, Wedeman said, it appears that the president’s support is conditional, that “if we report in a way that the president of the United States does not like, he doesn’t have our back…. I worry about that.”
CNN has responded in the past to Trump’s criticism. After Trump appeared to promote violence by posting a clip of him slamming down a CNN avatar in a wrestling match, the network released a statement saying the president was displaying “juvenile behavior far below the dignity of his office.”
“We will keep doing our jobs,” the statement read. “He should start doing his.”
In fact, the network’s new “Facts first” slogan and ad campaign appears to be a direct answer to Trump’s “fake news.”
A CNN ad released last month shows an apple and says that some people might try to convince viewers the fruit is a banana.
“They might put BANANA in all caps,” a voice-over with captions says in the video. “You might even start to believe that this is a banana. But it’s not. This is an apple.”
CNN also made headlines last week after the Department of Justice sued to block AT&T’s $85 billion merger with Time Warner, which owns CNN. Some Democrats have worried that antitrust officials may be trying to block the deal because of Trump’s criticism of CNN — an allegation both the White House and the Justice Department deny.
Still, the war between the president and CNN heated up several degrees on Monday.
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