By the time the social media platform Twitter permanently suspended his account on Jan. 8, 2021, President Donald Trump had posted 2,520 tweets degrading journalists and the media as a whole.
The suspension came two days after Trump spoke at a rally in front of the White House and called on his supporters to march to the Capitol building in protest of Congress's certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. The march devolved into a riot as individuals stormed and infiltrated the building. Twitter cited “risk of further incitement of violence” and a pattern of behavior that violated the company’s rules in a statement explaining the decision.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker houses a database of Trump’s anti-media tweets that dates back to June 15, 2015, the date Trump declared his candidacy for president. According to our analysis of nearly 24,500 of Trump’s tweets across that time, 2,520 anti-press tweets means that he has, on average, tweeted negatively about the press more than once a day for the past 5 ½ years.
A series of court decisions established that each of those tweets from Trump’s personal handle, @realDonaldTrump, is an official statement from the Office of the President of the United States. When Trump tried to circumvent Twitter’s suspension by posting on @POTUS, the official handle for the Office of the President, the social media platform removed those tweets as well. The Trump campaign account, @TeamTrump, was also suspended.
In 2020, despite an impeachment process, a global pandemic, widespread national protests against racial injustice and a presidential election that he lost, Trump posted more negative tweets about the media than in any year prior. During his fourth and final year in office, Trump posted 633 anti-press tweets.
Tweeting Against Newsrooms, Journalists
In the last months of Trump’s presidency, denouncing the press on Twitter took a backseat to attacks against the electoral process, claims of victory and unfounded conspiracy theories of election fraud. Still, relative to previous years, in his final year in office Trump increased his attacks on specific newsrooms and journalists.
Trump first insulted NBC’s Chuck Todd on July 12, 2015, referring to the anchor as “pathetic” and that he was “killing Meet the Press.” Almost exactly five and a half years later, on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump targeted Todd in his final anti-media tweet. “Sad to watch!” he posted, using one of his common nicknames for “Sleepy Eyes” Todd.
In all, Trump posted 515 tweets that included insults of individual journalists and 810 degrading specific news outlets. CNN and its journalists were targeted most often, with a total of 310 tweets. The New York Times and MSNBC/NBC were targeted the second and third most often, being called out in 289 and 271 tweets, respectively.
While not in the top three of newsroom targets, Fox News followed closely; it had been a favorite target of Trump’s during his candidacy then saw renewed tweet interest from the president during his final two years in office.
Tweeting Against the ‘Opposition Party’
In his final year as president, Trump accelerated his rate of anti-press tweets. He surpassed 2,000 negative tweets on April 11, 2020, as the U.S. led the world in confirmed COVID-19 deaths.
Trump also dramatically increased on Twitter his references to the media as the “opposition party” or as “partners” of the Democratic party. In contrast to earlier in his presidency, where Trump focused on delegitimizing specific reporting, in his final year in office he increasingly framed the media as a whole as active participants in a conspiracy against him and his administration.
Throughout his term, the words the president used to target and denigrate the media were often repeated as journalists were attacked while reporting, particularly at his rallys and pro-Trump demonstrations. Following the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol, where “Murder the Media” was carved into a door in the building, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is working to document at least 14 assaults of journalists covering the Washington, D.C. riot and other national protests. The majority of those assaults were by individuals supporting the president.