WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Sunday tweeted a doctored video of a wrestling match in which he physically assaults a man whose head was replaced with the logo of cable news channel CNN.
Trump for months has derided CNN and other major US media outlets as “fake news.”
The 2007 video showed Trump, performing in a professional wrestling show, knocking down WWE promoter Vince McMahon and pretending to beat him on the ground.
The altered video had apparently circulated on the internet before Trump tweeted it with the hashtags, “#FraudNewsCNN #FNN.”
The tweet, which follows Trump’s social media insults last week against a pair of cable hosts, was quickly condemned.
CNN accused Trump of “juvenile behaviour far below the dignity of his office.”
“It is a sad day when the president of the United States encourages violence against reporters,” the network said in a statement. “… We will keep doing our jobs. He should start doing his.”
Earlier, CNN tweeted a quote from White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s Thursday briefing: “The president in no way form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary.”
PEN America, a New York-based writers’ group that promotes free speech, said it was “sadly accustomed to Donald Trump’s vicious, ill-informed and sometimes lewd attacks on journalists and the media” but called Sunday’s tweet “a new low.”
“It’s impossible to conclude anything other than that the president is valourizing and modeling [sic] brutal physical attacks on journalists,” PEN America executive director Suzanne Nossel said in a Facebook post.
She said his “brazen approbation of violence is unprecedented by the president of the United States and signals a dangerous assault on the public’s right to know and on the role of the media in vindicating that right.”
In an interview Sunday with broadcaster ABC News, White House homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert said the tweet was “certainly not” a threat.
“I think that no one would perceive that as a threat. I hope they don’t. But I do think that he’s beating up, in a way, on cable platforms that he has a right to respond to.”
He said that Trump was “expressing himself genuinely, and to be honest, I think that’s why he was elected.”
Dan Rather, a former long-time network news anchor, said the video was “symbolically attacking CNN,” and called for Trump’s fellow Republicans to stand up to him.
“We once again witness the dangerous debasing of our democratic institutions,” Rather wrote on Facebook.
“But if Mr. Trump and his confederates think that this kind of bullying will intimidate reporters, I think they will find themselves sadly mistaken. It will only embolden the press, which has a constitutionally protected role to play in our democracy.”