During a press conference at the White House, President Trump falsely claimed that his electoral college win was the biggest since Ronald Reagan. He also attempted to downplay reports of turmoil inside his administration. USA TODAY NETWORK
In a combative press conference that left the media world stunned, President Trump turned his Thursday meeting with White House correspondents about a cabinet pick into an angry censure of the media's coverage of the administration.
Repeating his past assertions about the press, Trump said that many news reports critical of the White House, relying on anonymous sources and leaks, amount to what he considers "fake news."
"The media's trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges that we made and they're not happy about it for whatever reason," Trump said.
At another point, he said, "I'm not ranting and raving. ... I'm just telling you."
The White House has been besieged in the last few days with an onslaught of news stories that reflect the chaos that has engulfed the administration, including stories that led to the resignations of national security adviser Michael Flynn and Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder, chronicled in-house fighting among top aides and looked into possible ties of some in the administration to Russia.
Trump was expected to face a flurry of questions from reporters who have been frustrated by a lack of clear answers and access to the president. While he addressed some of the issues, Trump deflected questions and instead lectured on what he considers to be a hostile press undermining his agenda.
When asked about the administration’s contact with Russia, Trump called a New York Times front-page story Wednesday “a joke” and a Wall Street Journal story “almost as disgraceful as the failing New York Times.”
He went on to say “Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.”
Trump's love-hate relationship with the press has been widely chronicled and he is said to be an avid consumer of cable news shows, Fox News' programming in particular. He criticized CNN's coverage and made jokes about ensuring the CNN's White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who shares the same last name as the new Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta, were not related.
He again cited his preference for the conservative shows on Fox News, calling Fox & Friends the "most honest" morning show.
Trump mentioned that the Justice Department would look into leaks by the intelligence community. “Those are criminal leaks. They're put out by people either in agencies — I think you'll see it stopping because now we have our people in. You know, again, we don't have our people in because we can't get them approved by the Senate.”
“The leaks are absolutely real,” Trump said. “The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”
But reporters continued to press Trump on seemingly contradictory statements about fake news and leaks. In particular, leaks reported by the press has been seemingly accurate enough that the administration reacted to the information, as in the case of Flynn’s resignation.
“If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake,” CNN’s Acosta asked.
The public watching TV news doesn’t, Trump said, “know if it's true or false because they're not involved. I'm involved. I've been involved with this stuff all my life. But I'm involved. So I know when you're telling the truth or when you're not. I just see many, many untruthful things.”
There’s “anger and hatred ” in much of the coverage, too, especially on CNN, Trump said.
“The tone is such hatred,” Trump said. “I'm really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such — I do get good ratings, you have to admit that — the tone is such hatred.”
The press conference set Twitter afire and left many reporters in attendance visibly stunned. "It was unhinged, it was wild," said CNN's Jake Tapper immediately on CNN's broadcast after the press event ended.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.