Government & Politics

Trump’s ‘fake news’ jab at VFW convention is a new distortion of reality, expert says

President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued an impassioned campaign against the media during a speech to 4,000 veterans at the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ national convention in Kansas City.

“Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” Trump said, drawing boos from audience members. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Shortly after the president’s remarks ended, the VFW tweeted that it was disappointed in the reaction and it was “happy to have” members of the press in attendance.

Media critics, however, say Trump’s remarks — which were specifically regarding stories of farmers who have been hurt by recent trade disputes with China and other countries — reached a new level of animosity from previous complaints of “fake news.”

“Last night he escalated it further, because he was no longer commenting on press performance, he was trying to directly address his supporters’ sense of reality and explain to them that he is what is real and what you’re seeing on your TV screen and newspaper is not,” said Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University and author of PressThink, an analytical blog on the state of journalism.

Furthermore, Rosen said, Trump’s remarks indicate an effort to discredit not only the media but also the idea of truth in general.

“His campaign is not only to discredit the news media, but it’s an attempt to undermine the notion of a common world of fact,” he said. “His argument is that there’s no such thing and no one should try to persuade you that there is.”

A Washington Post article took Rosen’s sentiments a step further, comparing Trump’s remarks to ideas in “1984,” a dystopian novel by George Orwell.

In Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said the time and place of the president’s comments was misguided.

“The VFW convention is not the place for attacks on those who you believe to be your political enemies,” said Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat.

Cleaver recalled watching President George W. Bush address the VFW convention more than a decade ago and said Bush focused his remarks on issues facing veterans. He had hoped Trump would do the same.

“Don’t expect this president to follow any tradition,” Cleaver said Wednesday.

Cleaver addressed the same convention a day before Trump and said that his speech was nonpartisan.

“I talked about them and the only mention of politics was when I said — to applause — we owe you who fought to maintain our liberty and this democracy to function legislatively with civility,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, said he did not watch the television broadcast of Trump’s speech and has only read a few paragraphs of its content.

Blunt said it’s not surprising that Trump veered into political conflicts during his speech to veterans group.

“I spoke to the national VFW conference one time when they were in St. Louis and I’m sure I stayed pretty clearly on veterans issues, but that’s not how the president views these opportunities,” Blunt said. “And if you’ve seen anything he’s done since he was elected president I don’t think there’s any reason to be shocked that his thoughts would be wide-ranging.”

Following backlash about the president’s speech and to its tweet about the press, the VFW clarified its views early Wednesday on the president’s visit.

“It’s a longstanding VFW tradition to give our members the chance to hear directly from the sitting president on the issues that affect veterans, service members and their families. Our members are from all walks, and the VFW is non-partisan,” the VFW tweeted.

Not everyone disagreed with Trump’s anti-media sentiment, however.

“What do you expect your members to do? Cheer the lying press? Good grief,” one tweeted.

The Star’s Bryan Lowry contributed reporting from Washington D.C. for this piece.

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