In the aftermath of last week’s deadly assault on Annapolis, Maryland’s Capital Gazette newsroom, President Donald Trump seemed annoyed.
In conversations with those close to him, the president casually aired a complaint and a prediction—that “the fake news” would “unfair[ly]” try to blame him and his demagoguing of the adversarial news coverage for the mass shooting, according to two advisers who spoke to him about the matter.
In Trump’s view, his critics in the media and Democrats would use the story of murdered journalists against him, to highlight his years-long push to delegitimize and bash those he perceived as the “enemy of the American people” at major news outlets. Furthermore, the president has repeatedly insisted that the culture and rhetoric coming from the American left is the real problem and far more likely to inspire violence than anything coming from the right, anyway—and that voters understand that.
Reached for comment on this story, White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters simply wrote back, “I refer you to the president’s public comments [from Friday].”
Both privately and publicly, President Trump has a tendency to make tragedies—including ones with body counts—about himself and his own grievances or ongoing feuds. (Many of his public responses to the devastation in Puerto Rico late last year sharply underscore this proclivity.)
But on Friday, Trump addressed the issue in carefully prepared remarks read from the White House, stating that the “attack shocked the conscience of our nation and filled our hearts with grief,” and that “journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.”
“Horrible, horrible event, horrible thing happened,” he added. “In your suffering, we pledge our eternal support. The suffering is so great.”
Five staffers at The Capital newspaper—Wendi Winters, John McNamara, Robert Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith, and Gerald Fischman—were killed when alleged gunman Jarrod Ramos entered the Annapolis newsroom armed with a shotgun. Ramos, who had repeatedly threatened the paper, was previously engaged in a legal dispute with The Capital after it reported on his guilty plea in a years-old harassment case.
Before Ramos was even identified by authorities who took him into custody, blame had quickly been assigned to various parties.
Last week, a Reuters editor had to publicly apologize after tweeting (and later deleting) that “blood is on [Trump’s] hands.” And within seconds of becoming aware of the breaking news on Thursday, Fox News host and Trump confidant Sean Hannity bizarrely called out Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, declaring, “I’ve been saying now for days that something horrible was going to happen because of the rhetoric. Really, Maxine?”
Other Trump allies and advisers moved on to accusing reporters of exploiting an atrocity to bash the president. Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale claimed via Twitter that CNN’s Jim Acosta was “making it about him.” Trump appointee Carl Higbie, who had to resign following the revelations of bigoted and racist comments, tweeted that the president’s own media hatreds were wholly justified. The “press struck first,” he wrote. “@realDonaldTrump has right to fight back.”
Andy Surabian, a former Trump White House official, wrote, “1. An awful shooting happens. 2. Reporters rush to blame @realDonaldTrump without any evidence. 3. These reporters ignore the fact that it was the media/left who originally popularized the term ‘Fake News.’ 4. Comes out shooting has nothing to do with Trump. 5. No Apologies.”
Donald Trump Jr., who Surabian now advises politically, approvingly retweeted the sentiment.
But in the days since the mass shooting, President Trump himself, at least on his frenetic Twitter feed, has managed, intentionally or not, to pull back on his habitual complaints about “enemy of the people” media and supposedly “fake” reporters. As of press time, Trump hasn’t tweeted about “fake news” since the Monday prior to the massacre, when he posted on how “Fake News is working overtime!”
A senior White House official told The Daily Beast that they suspected this to be a coincidental occurrence, not a calculated move out of sensitivity, and safely expected the president to return to his rage-tweeting about news outlets as soon as “any minute now.”
Hours after this West Wing official said this, and just minutes before this story was set to publish Sunday night, Trump retweeted a tweet posted by conservative author Larry Elder, reading, “BEWARE! #TrumpDerangementSyndrome can be career ending.”
Elder’s post linked to a tweet from The Hill stating, “Newspaper reporter resigns after wrongly claiming Capital Gazette shooter wore MAGA hat.”