Historians can point to plenty of past presidents who have sparred with the press. But they're hard-pressed to find anything that approaches the all-out attack on the media that President
"There has never been a kind of holistic jihad against the news media like Trump is executing," said
Trump, who has long had an adversarial relationship with the media, opened a 77-minute
"Maybe it's not, and that's OK, too," he added.
Clearly, he's fine with that.
The president proceeded to circle back to the press time and again during the news conference to complain about "fake news" purveyed by "dishonest" reporters. He called out individual news organizations, reporters and stories, labeling them "disgraceful, "discredited" and "a joke." He lamented "the bias and the hatred" directed at him.
"It's all fake news, it's all fake news," he said of reports that members of his team were in regular contact with Russian officials during the campaign.
Trump said he was determined to "take my message straight to the people" because "the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control."
The president posted a pre-dawn message on his Twitter account Friday expressing gratitude to his supporters "for all of the nice statements on the Press Conference yesterday."
The performance Thursday was part of a calculated strategy by Trump to discredit those who are reporting on the chaos and stumbles of the administration's opening weeks and to boost enthusiasm among the president's core supporters.
Zelizer said all presidents have had their moments of tension with the press, but "the scale and scope of this is unlike anything that we've seen in the past."
Nixon's increasingly difficult relations with the press during the unfolding of the Watergate scandal may be the closest parallel, Zelizer said, with the embattled president famously telling reporters at a 1973 news conference that "I am not a crook."
But at least publicly, Nixon was more circumspect about going after individual reporters and news organizations, even while privately musing about how to discredit
"The press is your enemy," Nixon told the chairman of the
More recent presidents have more episodic difficulties with the press.
After the bombing of the
The bad blood between presidents and the press stretches back to the nation's early years.
Jefferson is often remembered for his stirring defense of the press, when he wrote in 1787 that, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
But two decades later, as president, Jefferson had a different take on the press that sounds something like an early version of Trump's complaints against "fake news."
Jefferson wrote to a newspaper editor in 1807: "Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle."
Brinkley said Trump's tactics reflect a broad cultural shift away from news to entertainment, as the former reality TV star tries to keep his supporters engaged.
"He's trying to show that he's King Kong and the press are little gnats," says Brinkley. "That has box office appeal to a certain segment of the population."