President Trump struck back at the news media and mounted a defense of his still-young administration Thursday, saying the press was “out of control” with attacks on him, and that the White House was running like a “fine-tuned machine.”
At a hastily arranged press conference, Mr. Trump accused news organizations of ignoring his successes and attempting to undermine him with “fake news,” saying that much of the news media was working to protect the special interests and status quo in Washington that he was elected to destroy.
“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,” he said at the freewheeling press conference, where he answered questions from a variety of new outlets for more than an hour.
“I see [news] stories of chaos, chaos, yet it is the exact opposite,” said Mr. Trump. “This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine despite the fact that I can’t get my Cabinet approved.”
He rattled off early successes, including the record highs in the stock market, major companies such as Ford opting to keep factories in the U.S., the cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and ordering the Pentagon to devise new plans to destroy the Islamic State.
Mr. Trump said he called the press conference to “take my message straight to the people.”
The president chose to put himself in front of the White House press corps amid a tumultuous week.
His nominee for labor secretary, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination Wednesday due to dwindling support from Senate Republicans.
Mr. Trump forced his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, to resign Monday because he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.
Mr. Trump had previously blamed Mr. Flynn’s downfall on the news media and illegal leaks from the intelligence community that exposed his erroneous statements denying he talked to the ambassador about U.S. sanctions against Russia.
He said the relentless news stories about his alleged connections with Russia were a “ruse.”
Still, the rough week and the confusion that followed the rollout of his executive order for an extreme vetting program bellied his claims of the administration performing like a “fine-tuned machine.”
He also claimed the rollout of extreme vetting to temporarily halt visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which was suspended by federal court rulings, was “very smooth.”
“Let me tell you about the travel ban. We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision,” he said.
Mr. Trump opened the press conference by announcing his new pick to run the Labor Department, former National Labor Relations Board member R. Alexander Acosta. But he quickly launched into his rebuke of the news media.
Making a case for his early successes, the president said the news media had underreported the “mess” he inherited from President Obama.
“As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy,” he said. “To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.”
Listing problems that include jobs leaving the U.S., threats of North Korea and the “disaster” in the Middle East, the president vowed to fix all of it. “We’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess,” he said.
Predicting that the news media would distort his actions during the press conference, Mr. Trump said he could imagine headlines declaring: “Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.”
“I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you. You know, you’re dishonest people,” he told reporters gathered in the East Room of the White House. “But I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.”
Indeed, Mr. Trump relished sparring with reporters at the unconventional White House event that harked back to his face-offs with the press on the campaign trail.
In another nod to his wild run for presidency, Mr. Trump will hold a campaign-style rally Saturday at the Orlando-Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida.
“I just heard that the crowds are massive that want to be there,” Mr. Trump said at the press conference.
Richard Benedetto, a scholar on the relationships between the White House and the press, said that he was not surprised by Mr. Trump’s aggressive push back against the new media.
“President Trump feels, with some credibility, that he is under siege by the news media,” said Mr. Benedetto, a journalism professor at American University. “Just check the headlines. And he knows that if he doesn’t fight back, no one else will come to his defense.
“It might not win many converts, but it appeals to his base, which is all he has right now. When a president’s job approval falls below 40 percent, it signals that his base is eroding. He is at 40 percent,” said the professor.
The White House press corps bristled at the criticism and pounced when Mr. Trump made an erroneous claim that his Electoral College victory was the largest since Ronald Reagan.
In fact, Mr. Trump’s 304 electoral votes were surpassed by the winner in five of the seven other post-Reagan elections.
However, Mr. Trump has regularly made the claim that his Electoral College victory was the largest for a Republican since Reagan, with is closer to the truth. The last Republican with a larger win was President George H.W. Bush, with 426 electoral votes in 1988.
“Why should Americans trust you?” asked a TV news reporter after noting the discrepancies.
“Well, I don’t know, I was given that information,” Mr. Trump said. “I actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?”
The president singled out several news organizations for ridicule, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and CNN.
In an exchange with a CNN reporter, Mr. Trump said the network’s evening anchor had “hatred and venom coming from his mouth.”
Mr. Trump also clashed with a reporter from the Jewish news magazine Ami who asked about the increase of anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks.
Angered by the perceived insinuation that he was anti-Semitic, Mr. Trump said that was “not a fair question.”
“So here’s the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person,” said Mr. Trump, who shouted down the reporter when he attempted to interject.
“Quiet, quiet, quiet,” said Mr. Trump. “See, he lied about [that]. He was gonna get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So you know, welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something — that I hate the charge. I find it repulsive.”
He also appeared to offend a black reporter who asked about Mr. Trump’s plans to help inner cities and whether he would seek input from the Congressional Black Caucus.
“I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting?” he asked April Ryan, a reporter from American Urban Radio Networks.
When Ms. Ryan said no, Mr. Trump asked, “Are they friends of yours?”
The exchange was characterized as racist across Twitter and the news reports.
In an earlier response to the same reporter, Mr. Trump said that he would soon sign an executive order in support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
He also pledged to make good on his campaign promise to improve education, reduce crime and expand job opportunities in American’s urban communities.
“I was very strong on the inner cities during the campaign,” Mr. Trump said. “I think it’s probably what got me a much higher percentage of the African-American vote than a lot of people thought I was going to get. We did, you know, much higher than people thought I was going to get. And I was honored by that, including the Hispanic vote, which was also much higher.”
Mr. Trump did fare slightly better among black and Hispanic voters than 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. He captured 8 percent of the black vote and 29 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to Mr. Romney’s 6 percent and 27 percent, respectively.
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