What happened during protests? Media divided on narrative

August 14, 2017 GMT
President Donald Trump speaks about the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks about the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s media loyalists constructed an anti-police, anti-media narrative to defend the president following criticism of his initial response to weekend violence in Charlottesville, at least until forced into a quick pivot Monday.

Trump’s weekend statement blaming “all sides” for confrontations at a white nationalist rally provoked the raised-volume response common to events since he’s become president, where accounts of what is going on vary greatly depending on who’s doing the accounting.


Under fire for not specifically citing the fringe groups who planned the torch-bearing “Unite the White” rally, including by many of his fellow Republicans, Trump made another statement Monday that condemned the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Immediately after the president walked away from a White House podium, Fox News Channel anchor Harris Faulkner said this should satisfy his critics.

“If nothing will quiet them, then they don’t have America in their sights,” she said.

While liberals were united in their condemnation of Trump, the president’s actions divided politicians and media outlets that normally would be friendly. The conservative National Review criticized the president, saying Trump “should treat the Charlottesville Nazis with the same specificity with which he denounces The New York Times, John McCain or Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel.” Blogging Trump’s statement on Monday, the conservative web site Hotair.com said that “this would have made a very good first statement. The question is whether this was too little, too late.”

Prior to Monday’s appearance by the president, which The New York Times described as Trump “bowing to overwhelming pressure,” some conservative media outlets were questioning whether police tactics involving the people rallying in support of Confederate-era symbols were more to blame for the violence than the opinions being expressed.

In a lengthy report that quoted event organizer Jason Kessler and four of the demonstrators who spoke under condition of anonymity, Breitbart News suggested police did little to prevent a confrontation between the white nationalists and counter-demonstrators. Breitbart’s report even included a link to the investigative site ProPublica, which wrote a story headlined “Police Stood By as Mayhem Mounted in Charlottesville.”

The four demonstrators quoted anonymously all said neither they nor anyone associated with their group were the prime movers in the violence.


Breitbart aired a straight news account of Trump’s statement on Monday, then followed it up with a story headlined: “Mainstream media complain: Trump’s condemnation of Charlottesville racist groups not good enough.”

The website altright.com said the event was “an obvious setup” on the part of state and local officials. “Despite months of planning and coordination with police, they failed to maintain order,” the site said. “They deployed their heaviest hitters against peaceful protesters,” while allowing “thugs” among counter-demonstrators a free hand, the site said.

Attacks on the “mainstream media” aren’t unusual among Trump supporters; questioning law enforcement is.

Before Trump’s second statement on Monday, some conservative commentators took issue with those who criticized Trump’s initial reaction.

“I think the president nailed it,” said Fox’s Pete Hegseth on Sunday’s edition of the morning show “Fox & Friends.” ″He condemned in the strongest possible terms hatred and bigotry on all sides as opposed to immediately picking a side out of the gate.”

On the same show Monday, Hegseth said that “nothing is ever good enough” for the press. “So much of the left sees the world not as ‘America first’ but ‘racial identity politics first,’” he said.

Fox’s Jesse Watters flashed a still picture that he said “encapsulates what was going on.” It showed a white demonstrator holding a Confederate flag at an angle — perhaps preparing to swing it — and a shirtless, heavily-muscled black man pointing a flame-thrower in the direction of the flag.

Watters said that liberals were “taking advantage of a tragedy to smear the president of the United States as a racist responsible for death.”

“Left-wing radical groups have terrorized this country over the last several years, shooting police officers, rioting in the streets and assaulting innocent civilians,” Watters said. “Has the Democratic leadership condemned left-wing violence? Not so much.”

Watters said that “America is not a racist nation. It’s time we stopped acting like it is.”

Conservative outlets also called attention to the more heated commentary on the other side, on television and social media. The media watchdog site NewsBusters on Monday, for example, printed an account of MSNBC “Morning Joe” commentator Donny Deutsch calling Trump a “pathetic, sniveling man” and saying the president was racist.

Breitbart wrote about CNN commentator Ana Navarro’s statement that Trump was not just unfit to be president, but “unfit to be human.”

“The selective outrage at work here is the American media at its worst and demonstrates more than ever why respect for the president is at an all-time low,” NewsBusters wrote.