President Donald Trump attacked the media on Sunday for its coverage of his Helsinki summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin, at which his comments during a press conference were was widely panned by much of Washington ― including some members of his own party.
“I had a GREAT meeting with Putin and the Fake News used every bit of their energy to try and disparage it,” Trump tweeted. “So bad for our country!”
Blaming reporters, of course, is far from a novel strategy for Trump. His “fake news” complaint has been a staple for him both as a candidate and as president, and he began decrying the media reports on the summit with Putin soon after it wrapped up on Monday.
Such complaints also have become the reflexive response of many of his supporters, whose response to adverse news about the Trump administration is often to outright deny that the stories are true ― reactions frequently aided by contradictory statements from the White House.
HuffPost/YouGov polls earlier this year showed, for instance, that just 11 percent of Trump voters believed that the administration was intentionally trying to separate families at the border or that the president once had an affair with porn actress Stormy Daniels. Instead, Trump backers are likely to assign blame to media outlets for raising such matters.
A HuffPost/YouGov poll taken last week provides a pretty clear illustration of such attitudes. When we surveyed Americans immediately after the summit, we first asked some respondents to tell us in their own words what they thought had happened in the news that day. Some Trump voters lauded the meeting. But even more offered, unprompted, criticisms of the media. Among their responses (some edited lightly for clarity):
- “A historic and necessary meeting took place between the U.S. and Russia, but according to the media we should be pushing their agenda and confronting Russia over made-up investigations and junk. The president is absolutely doing the right thing.
- “A lot of false news leading to false impressions.”
- “A lot of over-reaction. It would not have been appropriate to flat out call Putin a liar when you are trying to establish a better relationship with the second nuclear power of the world. A lot of assumptions were made by the media talking heads - no one knows what was said in the private two-hour meeting [between Trump and Putin that preceded the pres conference]...Trump needs to keep using Twitter and talking directly to the people because we cannot trust the mainstream media and their obvious bias.”
- “I think the mainstream media went nuts when President Trump met with Putin. The mainstream media and the Democrats would all rather see us go to war with Russia than have Donald Trump succeed”
- “Mainstream media attempted to twist the events of the Helsinki summit to continue its anti-Trump narrative.”
- “Media keeps hammering on President Trump not knowing what was said behind closed doors. They need to shut up!”
- “President Trump had a summit in Finland today and meet with Vladimir Putin to discuss many, many topics. One of the most important was nuclear proliferation. The news media wants to continue their main coverage of Russian collusion and Russian meddling in American elections.”
- “President Trump and Putin went forth with a press conference and the media tried to push him into embarrassing Putin in front of the world. Fortunately, President Trump knows how to handle foreign relations and the Fake News.”
- “The president did not bow down to the media and Democratic Party. The media was asking questions that are beyond sophomoric. Remember, elections have consequences. The Democratic Party and their spokepersons, the media, don’t like that at all.”
- “The president met with Putin then had a press conference, then the media told everyone how badly he performed.”
Not all of Trump’s supporters responded by bashing the media. In the HuffPost/YouGov poll ― which ended up with one of most positive assessments of the meeting among various surveys ― 17 percent of his supporters either disapproved of the meeting or said they weren’t sure what to make of it, and 14 percent said they believed Trump has treated Putin too positively.
Even some Trump voters who felt overall positively about the summit added that, in the words of one, the president “could have said what he did in a better way.”
Still, the responses show how thoroughly the president’s animosity toward the press has been absorbed by his supporters, and offer one reason why the small slice of Trump voters who express concerns about his approach to Russia has by most metrics yet to show any considerable growth.
More broadly, Trump’s summit performance has garnered at best tepid reactions among the nation as a whole, with most surveys finding a negative response, and the rosiest numbers for the White House still finding the public roughly split.
In a new ABC/Post poll released Sunday, half of the public disapproved of Trump’s conduct at the summit, with just a third approving.