After a day that saw targets of his verbal barrages targeted by bombs delivered through the mail, President Trump blamed the media for the current state of political discourse. “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
Less than 24 hours before Trump’s tweet, just after 10am Wednesday morning, CNN’s Jim Sciutto and Poppy Harlow were anchoring from New York, reporting on suspicious packages that had been mailed to the Obamas and Clintons, when an alarm began wailing in their studio. Within minutes Sciutto and Harlow, along with the rest of their New York colleagues, would be out on the street, evacuated from their Columbus Circle offices due to the discovery of a similar package in the building.
As the chaotic day unfolded, it became clear that a coordinated campaign was underway, targeting prominent Democrats, CNN, and liberal donor George Soros, all of whom have faced frequent criticism from President Trump and right-wing figures. Packages containing pipe bombs were mailed to or dropped off at the homes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the offices of California Representative Maxine Waters and Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, CNN’s New York office, and Soros’s suburban New York home. And this morning, The New York Times reports actor Robert De Niro received a similar package at his business address.
“What happened today was an act of terror. Terror designed to kill or maim, to scare, or to silence,” Anderson Cooper said on his Wednesday night program. “If the devices were designed to kill, they failed. If they were designed to scare and to silence reporters or politicians, they failed at that as well.”
Hours after the bombs were discovered, Trump took the stage at a rally in Wisconsin and issued a general condemnation of violence without mentioning the specific intended recipients of the packages, then returned to his criticism of the press. “The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories,” he said. While calling for an end to “the language of moral condemnation, Trump took no responsibility for his own incendiary rhetoric, which has often included attacks on the very people and institutions targeted by the bomber.
Throughout the day, news networks flashed maps of the country showing locations in New York, California, and Florida where suspicious packages had been discovered. While there was relief that no one was injured, there was also a recognition that the incendiary rhetoric surrounding out political debates—often emanating from the president himself—had gone from word to action.
Though all of the packages were addressed to frequent targets of President Trump’s criticism, the motive and political leanings of the would-be bomber are at this point unclear. But Trump has undoubtedly played a role in stoking anger at his critics, his political opponents, and news outlets—specifically CNN—who attempt to cover him honestly. In a Wednesday afternoon statement, CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker blasted Trump and his administration for their approach to the press. “There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” Zucker said. “The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.”
Below, more on a disturbing day.
- How CNN covered the news: Brian Stelter reports on the way his own network dealt with being thrust into the middle of a breaking story.
- On the ground: CJR’s Alexandria Neason reports on the scene outside of CNN’s Columbus Circle office, where reporters scrambled to gather updates, anchors appeared via cell phones, and bystanders gawked at the chaos.
- Tracking conspiracy theories: Almost as soon as the suspicious packages were discovered, right-wing pundits began floating the possibility that the bombs were part of a conspiracy designed to help Democrats in the midterm elections, report The Daily Beast’s Kelly Weill and Will Sommer.
- “A country on edge”: The Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes that ahead of the midterm elections, “the climate is one of fear, of threat and of division, of caravans from Central America and angry mobs. And now, of explosive devices sent to two former Democratic presidents and others.”
- From speech to action: “What role does violent political rhetoric have on these real-life acts of violence?” CNN’s Stelter and Oliver Darcy ask in their look at the consequences of verbal attacks from Trump and others.
Other notable stories:
- Megyn Kelly’s run at NBC has largely been a disaster from the start, and her comments on Tuesday about blackface Halloween costumes have brought tensions to a head. The New York Times’s John Koblin and Michael M. Grynbaum write that Kelly and NBC News chairman Andrew Lack had discussed winding down her portion of the Today show by the end of the year even before the most recent controversy exploded. CNN’s Stelter reports that Kelly will not be hosting Thursday’s program, and that she is unlikely to return later.
- “Here we are, 21 months into his presidency, and Trump still reaps maximum exposure every time he says something cruel, improbable, or daft,” writes Politico’s Jack Shafer, who argues it’s time for the press to change its approach to covering the president. “The threshold for what constitutes news from Trump’s mouth should be reset,” Shafer writes. “Unless his statements are true or his proposals have some chance of advancing, Trump’s loose talk belongs in concise and dismissive stories in the middle pages of the newspaper where we can skim them and move on.”
- CJR’s Corey Hutchins examines the ethics of publishing mugshot galleries, which serve as a traffic boost for numerous news sites. “While it’s not inherently unethical to publish mugshots,” Hutchins writes, “some media ethics specialists argue that newsrooms should contextualize such images for readers, articulate the public-service value of disseminating them, and pursue the stories of their subjects after the photos are taken.”
- NiemanLab’s Christine Schmidt looks at how news outlets are experimenting with their midterm coverage. “The midterms are an opportunity to test what works—and what flops—halfway through Trump’s first term,” she writes.
- Cutbacks at local outlets have hit local and state politics coverage hard. To counter that trend, the Illinois Press Foundation is launching a statehouse bureau that will provide year-round legislative coverage offered for free to the state’s news organizations. The bureau will include professional reporters as well as college interns.