White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called out for claiming Trump quick to condemn violence against press

Sanders said Trump is one of the first people to come to the press' defense.

February 22, 2019, 5:12 PM

When asked to comment Friday on the arrest of U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, who was allegedly caught researching acts of domestic terrorism and amassing more than a dozen firearms while compiling a list of prominent Democratic lawmakers and journalists from CNN and MSNBC, President Donald Trump said, "I think it’s a shame. I think it’s a very sad thing when a thing like that happens."

But when pressed if he bears any responsibility for moderating his own language, the president replied, "No, I don't. I think my language is very nice."

Earlier Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the president is one of the first to come to the press' defense when journalists face threats.

"I certainly don't think that the president at any point has done anything but condemn violence against journalists or anyone else," Sanders said when asked about the president's tweets against the media and its potential to incite extremists. "In fact, every single time something like this happens the president is typically one of the first people to condemn the violence and the media is the first people to blame the president."

"We should all join together and start condemning the violence whether it's against members of the media whether it's against Democrats, Republicans, any person in this country," Sanders said. "That is unacceptable and that's why every time it comes up we have been consistent and repeatedly said that we condemn violence in all forms."

Journalists and press freedom organizations were quick to call Sanders out on Twitter.

Jamil Smith, a senior writer at Rolling Stone, said "This is simply not true."

Trump, Smith tweeted, "Encourages harassment at rallies. Gave Gianforte an atta-boy after he assaulted a reporter. Went soft on the Saudis after the suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And this would-be terrorist was echoing Trump's own rhetoric. Come on."

The Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit that works to preserve journalists' rights, pointed to Trump's comments following Republican Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte body-slamming a reporter while running for re-election.

"Last October, after Rep. Gianforte body-slammed a reporter who asked him a question, Trump said: 'Any guy that can do a body-slam, he is my kind of guy...He's my guy,'" the nonprofit tweeted.

Most recently, the British Broadcasting Corporation said one of its cameramen was shoved by a man wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat at a Trump rally last week in El Paso, Texas.

In a video of the incident, which happened while Trump was speaking, the man appeared to shout profanities about the media while he was restrained by Trump campaign security. Sanders later said the president condemns "all acts of violence against any individual or group of people - including members of the press."

PHOTO: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders talks with reporters outside the White House in Washington, Feb. 15, 2019.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders talks with reporters outside the White House in Washington, Feb. 15, 2019.
Carolyn Kaster/AP, FILE

On Friday, the president tweeted: "Fake News is so bad for our Country!"

Earlier this week, he claimed the New York Times' reporting is false, labeled the newspaper "a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!" and predicted the news industry would go "BUST" in six years because "The Press has never been more dishonest than it is today."

In an interview with the New York Times earlier this month, Trump denied responsibility for attacks on the press.

"I do notice that people are declaring more and more fake news, where they go, 'Fake news!'" Trump said during an Oval Office interview with The New York Times. "I even see it in other countries. I don't necessarily attribute that to me. I think I can attribute the term to me. I think I was the one that started using it, I would say."

Reporters Without Borders, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of the press, added the United States to its list of the world's deadliest countries for the media for the first time ever in 2018. Last year, 348 journalists were detained, 60 were held hostage, 3 went missing and 80 were killed worldwide, according to the nonprofit.

Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian dissident Jamal Khashoggi was murdered, his body dismembered, inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in October.

While Trump called the crime "unacceptable and horrible," he defended Saudi Arabia in comments to reporters in November.

"It's a complex issue, it's a shame, but it is what it is. It is America first to me, it is all about America first," Trump said at the time. "I'm not going to destroy the world economy and I'm not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump reacts as reporters raise their hands to ask questions during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 7, 2018.
President Donald Trump reacts as reporters raise their hands to ask questions during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 7, 2018.
Evan Vucci/AP

In June, five staff members were killed and two were injured in a mass shooting at the Capital Gazette, a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.

On Wednesday, one of the shooting's survivors took to Twitter to share the fear Trump's words instill after yet another of the president's tweets called the press "dishonest."

"As one of six survivors of our nation's only newsroom mass shooting, seeing generalized media-bashing tweets from the president makes me fear for my life," said Rachael Pacella, a Capital Gazette reporter. "His words have power, and give bad actors justification to act."

In November, a nationwide review conducted by ABC News identified at least 17 criminal cases where Trump's name was invoked in direct connection with violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault. ABC News was unable to find any such case echoing presidential rhetoric when Barack Obama or George W. Bush were in the White House.

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events