Donald Trump took his battle with the media to a whole new level Sunday when he tweeted a wrestling video that showed him pummeling a man whose head had been replaced with the CNN logo — leading to accusations that the U.S. president was inciting violence against the media.
The message was retweeted by the official @POTUS account — along with a quarter of a million other people — meaning it will now form part of Trump’s presidential record.
The video, already Trump’s second most shared tweet, was posted after days of angry outbursts on the platform against the so-called “fake media.” Last week Trump sparked a row with MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski when he dubbed them “psycho” and “crazy,” respectively.
He also tweeted: “I am thinking about changing the name #FakeNews CNN to #FraudNewsCNN!”
And later: “My use of social media is not Presidential – it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!”
What has the reaction been?
While Monday’s tabloids had fun with Trump’s latest tweet, other news organizations were quick to point out the implicit threat of violence in the message. Not holding back, CNN released a statement Sunday:
“It is a sad day when the President of the United States encourages violence against reporters. Clearly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied when she said the President had never done so. Instead of preparing for his overseas trip, his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, dealing with North Korea and working on his health care bill, he is involved in juvenile behavior far below the dignity of his office. We will keep doing our jobs. He should start doing his.”
New York Times editor Dean Baquet backed the network up, saying: “I think it is unseemly that the president would attack journalists for doing their jobs, and encourage such anger at the media.”
Politicians weigh in
Predictably, Democrats have been vocal in their criticism of Trump’s recent tweets. While Republican voices have been mostly silent on the matter, there have been a couple of exceptions. Sen. Lindsey Graham said the tweet was “below the office and represents what is wrong with American politics.”
Republican Rep. Mike Coffman called on Trump to end the Twitter tantrums:
Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone said Trump was promoting violence against the media:
Nancy Pelosi, minority leader in the House of Representative, accused Trump of bullying the press:
Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Trump’s election opponent Hillary Clinton, compared Trump’s latest outburst to what had happened on the same day 241 years ago:
Does this violate Twitter’s terms and conditions?
Multiple people flagged Trump’s tweet to Twitter, claiming it violated the company’s terms of service which prohibit “hateful conduct.” Twitter initially said it didn’t comment on individual cases, but it finally responded late Sunday telling CNN that the tweet does not violate its terms of service.
While many were shocked by the tweet, it is not illegal. “I think it is foul. It is repulsive. But it is not illegal. The president has First Amendment rights, too. While he may abuse them sometimes, it takes more than he has done so far to move into the area of illegality,” famed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told the Washington Post.
Where did the video come from?
It is still unclear how the video came to the attention of the president, but it appears it was originally created by a racist troll on Reddit.
Trump’s use of the video was cheered on by a subreddit known as The Donald, and in particular by a frequent user known as HanAssholeSolo, who first posted the CNN wrestling video clip last week. “Wow!! I never expected my meme to be retweeted by the God Emperor himself!!!” he wrote Sunday.
HanAssholeSolo’s commenting history reveals that they often refer to African-American people, women, and muslims using slurs. In the past he or she has attacked Black Lives Matter, Islam, feminism, and liberals, whilst also posting links to fake news outlet Infowars. The user has since attempted to cleanse all racial slurs from their account, but Quartz has preserved the originals.