Sitting in the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday for what was billed as a listening session to mark the start of African-American History Month, President Donald Trump took the occasion to once again criticize the media for covering him unfairly while also praising famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass as “somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”
“Last month we celebrated the life of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history. You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office. And it turned out that that was fake news from these people,” Trump said during his introductory remarks, gesturing at the pool reporters who had been allowed in to view the start of the meeting. “Fake news. The statue is cherished … but they said the statue, the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, was taken out of the office. And it was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace. But that’s the way the press is, very unfortunate.”
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The incident to which the president referred occurred just hours after his inauguration last month, when a member of the presidential press pool mistakenly reported that a bust of King, placed in the Oval Office by former President Barack Obama, had been removed by Trump. That report was quickly corrected and the reporter responsible for it apologized, but the episode has been used by administration officials as proof that the media is out to get Trump.
The president was flanked on each side at the Roosevelt Room conference table by Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Ben Carson and Omarosa Manigault, a former contestant on Trump’s reality TV show “The Apprentice” who joined his administration in the Office of Public Liaison. Almost all of the attendees at the meeting had been supporters of Trump during the campaign.
Speaking of the influence African-Americans have had on the U.S., Trump listed Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman as individuals who “made America what it is today.” He said famed orator Frederick Douglass “is an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
The president continued his attack against the media moments later as he introduced Paris Dennard, a supporter of Trump’s who appeared regularly on CNN and other media outlets during the campaign. Often paired against a supporter of Democrat Hillary Clinton, segments featuring Dennard occasionally became heated, which Trump noted in his remarks.
“Paris has done an amazing job in a very hostile CNN community. He’s all by himself. He’ll have seven people and Paris,” Trump said. “I’ll take Paris over the seven. But I don’t watch CNN so I don’t get to see you as much. I don’t like watching fake news. But Fox has treated me very nice, wherever Fox is, thank you.”
Later in the meeting, Armstrong Williams, a conservative TV and radio host, introduced himself as “a member of what we call the media.” Williams, who is a close adviser to Carson, added that “not all media seems to be the opposition party. There are those that see good that you do and we report it.”
Williams’ claim that not everyone in the media is part of the “opposition party” to Trump was a nod to White House senior adviser Steve Bannon, who told the New York Times in an interview that the press should “keep its mouth shut” and that “the media here is the opposition party.” In subsequent remarks, Trump agreed and reiterated that point Wednesday.
“A lot of the media is actually the opposition party. They’re so biased. And really it’s a disgrace. Some of the media is fantastic and fair. But so much of the media is opposition party. And knowingly saying incorrect things,” Trump said. “So it’s a very sad situation. But we seem to be doing well. You know, it’s almost like in the meantime, we won, so maybe they don’t have the influence they think. But they really are — they really have to straighten out their act. They’re very dishonest people.”