President Donald Trump has renewed his campaign against the media as two human rights experts warned his attacks raise the risk of violence against journalists.
Trump declared at a Pennsylvania rally yesterday that the media is the "fake, fake disgusting news" and cast journalists as his true political opponent.
Trump was campaigning in a state he swiped from the Democrats in 2016 and that is home to a Senate seat he is trying to place in the Republicans' column this fall. But the race between GOP Congressman Lou Barletta and two-term incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Casey took a back seat to Trump's invectives against the media, which came amid a backdrop of antagonism to journalists from the White House and hostility from the thousands packed into a loud, overheated Wilkes-Barre arena.
"Whatever happened to the free press? Whatever happened to honest reporting?" Trump asked, pointing to the media in the back of the hall. "They don't report it. They only make up stories."
Trump's comments came as David Kaye and Edison Lanza of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called the attacks "strategic" and said they undermined press freedom and "verifiable facts".
"We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence," they said in a statement.
"Each time the President calls the media the enemy of the people or fails to allow questions from reporters from disfavoured outlets, he suggests nefarious motivations or animus. But he has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations."
Time and time again yesterday, Trump denounced the press for underselling his accomplishments and doubting his political rise.
He tore into the media for diminishing what he accomplished at his Singapore summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and for the tough questioning he received in Helsinki when he met with Russia's Vladimir Putin last month.
With each denunciation, the crowd jeered and screamed at the press at the back of the arena.
The inflammatory performance came just hours after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to distance herself from Trump's previous assertions that the media is the "enemy" of the American people.
Pressed during a White House briefing on the issue, she said Trump "has made his position known".
In a heated exchange with reporters, she recited a litany of complaints against the press and blamed the media for inflaming tensions in the country.
"As far as I know, I'm the first press secretary in the history of the United States that's required Secret Service protection," she said, accusing the media of continuing "to ratchet up the verbal assault against the President and everyone in this administration".
Trump's daughter Ivanka, meanwhile, said when asked in an interview if she shared her father's views on the media that "I have some sensitivity around why people have concerns and gripe, especially when they're sort of targeted" but that "no, I do not feel that the media is the enemy of the people".Her father, though, was in fiery form yesterday.
He defended his kid-glove approach to both Kim and Putin, saying, "it would be a good thing, not a bad thing" to have warmer relations with the hostile powers and dismissing the talk that meeting with the autocrats elevated them on the world stage.
He bashed the Democratic leadership of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and suggested his frequent foe Maxine Waters was "a new star" of the party.
He raved about the nation's booming economy and said, without evidence, that his blue-collar supporters in states such as Pennsylvania were the biggest beneficiaries.
And he looked ahead to his 2020 re-election campaign, touting his new slogan, "Keep America Great Again", while musing whether he wanted Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom he decried as "Pocahontas", or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whom he flatly deemed "crazy", as his opponent.
The rally came at a perilous time for Trump, who the day before bluntly declared his attorney general should terminate "right now" the federal probe into the campaign that took him to the White House, a newly fervent attack on the special counsel investigation that could imperil his presidency.
Huckabee Sanders scrambled to explain that Trump's tweet was "not an order" and the President was not directing his attorney general to do anything. "It's the President's opinion," she said.
But Trump's tweetstorm again raised the spectre that he could try to more directly bring special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia-Trump election-collusion probe to a premature end. And it revived the idea that Trump's tweets themselves might be used as evidence that he is attempting to obstruct justice.
Negotiations have also started again about a possible presidential interview as Mueller's team has offered the White House format changes, perhaps willing to limit some questions asked of Trump or accept some answers in writing, according to a person briefed on the proposal who wasn't authorised to discuss private talks and spoke on condition of anonymity.