President Donald Trump used much of his campaign rally in Phoenix Tuesday night (Aug. 22) defending his statements about the Charlottesville protests, chapter and verse, and attacking the news media with abandon, joined by a crowd that booed when he called out the media as "damned dishonest."
The president's point, hammered home again and again, was that his statements, which were almost universally criticized, had been fine, but it was the media misreporting that had created the controversy.
Trump said his words were perfect. He also said the media could attack him, but that he drew the line when they attacked the decency of his supporters.
"It is time to expose the crooked media" for "fomenting divisions" and "trying to take away our heritage," he said.
Most journalists, he said, are "really, really dishonest and bad people who don't like our country."
Trump called The New York Times a failing newspaper and the Washington Post a lobbying tool for Amazon (company founder Jeff Bezos owns the paper), and slammed CNN, after which the crowd seemed to be chanting "CNN sucks."
He called ABC's George Stephanopoulos "Little George" as he continued to say the media didn't accurately report his Charlottesville statements, reading them all and commenting as he did.
"If you want want to discover the source of the division in our country," he said, "look no further than the fake news and crooked media, which would rather get ratings and clicks than tell the truth."
In an aside, he said that CNN was doing "relatively poorly" in the ratings because the cable news network put on lots of anti-Trump talking heads and had fired Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord.
He said the "fake news and crooked media" were the only people giving a platform to the hate groups, adding that if he didn't have social media, he would not be able “get the word out.”
He also said the media turned a blind eye to violence, hostility toward the police and bad trade deals, among other things.
Trump gave a shout out to Fox News Channel for treating him fairly, calling its morning new program Fox and Friends the most honest show.
After the rally concluded, CNN's Don Lemon called Trump's comments "a total eclipse of the facts" and "rewriting history," and said the president was unhinged.
"This is who we elected President of the United States?" asked Lemon. "This petty, this small." CNN political director David Chalian agreed that Trump was "totally unhinged."
SamStein, politics editor for The Daily Beast and an MSNBC contributor, commented on Chalian's remarks via Twitter.
— Sam Stein (@samstein) August 23, 2017
Vanita Gupta, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said of the rally: “President Trump again chose to fan the flames of hate and division. His lack of moral credibility was on full display in Phoenix, and his failing, pathetic attempts to revise history were another abdication of leadership. When it comes to civil and human rights, we must all stand together against those seeking to divide us.”