In remarks to diners at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Saturday night, Donald Trump called the American media “crooked bastards” and Gen Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, a “fucking idiot”.
The meandering, foul-mouthed speech to Turning Point USA, a group for young conservatives, was streamed by Jack Posobiec, a rightwing blogger and provocateur.
The insult to the press recalled barbs while Trump was in power, including calling reporters and editors “fake news” and the “enemy of the people”, attacks many in the media regarded as dangerous, inviting political violence.
“The country is at a very important, dangerous place,” Trump said, amid familiar lies about his defeat in the 2020 election, which he says was the result of electoral fraud.
“We have no press. The press is so corrupt. We don’t have a press. If there is a good story about us, a good story about any of the people that are Republicans, conservatives, they make it a bad story. And if it’s a bad story they make it the worst story in history. It is the most dishonest group of people.”
Trump claimed to have transformed Americans’ views of the press, saying “when I first announced I was running in 2015 they had a 94%-95% approval rating. And right now they have a lower approval rating than Congress.
“I consider that to be a great honor because they are a bunch of very dishonest, crooked bastards.”
The remark met with laughter.
As with most of Trump’s claims, his claim about media approval ratings could be debated.
In 2015, the year Trump ran for the White House, Gallup said 40% of Americans “had ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ of trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly”.
In 2019, midway through Trump’s presidency, Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, told the Guardian his attacks on the press were “insidious” and “aimed to intimidate … a kind of dragging-through-the-mud effort, a character assassination … and it’s alarming”.
In 2021, the year Trump left office, Gallup said 21% of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers. For TV news, the figure was 16%. For Congress, it was 12%.
Trump insulted Milley as part of a long complaint about Joe Biden’s handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Impersonating the general’s gravelly voice, Trump said: “I’ll never forget Milley saying to me, ‘Sir, sir. It’s cheaper to leave the equipment than to bring it.’
Trump said he asked: “You think it’s cheaper to leave it there so they can have it than it is to fill it up with a half tank of gas and fly it into Pakistan or fly it back to our country?
“‘Yes, sir, we think it’s cheaper, sir.’
“That’s when I realized he was a fucking idiot.”
Trump regularly complains about Milley, particularly over his portrayal in bestselling books as a key figure in efforts to contain Trump at the end of his time in power.
Trump’s penchant for swearing is well-known, to the extent that his four-year presidency prompted soul-searching among some US media outlets about which words could properly be printed.
The Guardian has long had few such scruples.