President stuns TV hosts with fiery remarks

US President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media at the Trump Tower in Manhattan, on Aug 15, 2017.
US President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media at the Trump Tower in Manhattan, on Aug 15, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • "What I just saw gave me the wrong kind of chills," a visibly stunned Chuck Todd said on MSNBC. "Honestly, I'm a bit shaken by what I just heard."

Unable to disguise her disgust, Fox News host Kat Timpf said: "I'm still in the phase where I'm wondering if it was actually real life. I have too much eye makeup on to start crying right now."

And on CNN, as the network cut away from United States President Donald Trump's extraordinary 23-minute news conference at Trump Tower, anchor Jake Tapper could not contain his astonishment. "Wow," he said. "That was something else."

For a few minutes on Tuesday, television's partisan lines dissolved as anchors reacted on-air to Mr Trump's fiery remarks, in which he seemed to cast equal blame on white supremacists and the demonstrators who marched against them during last weekend's deadly clash in Charlottesville.

On Fox News, normally a redoubt of Trump support, the 5pm co-hosts of The Specialists shook their heads, with anchor Guy Benson saying Mr Trump "lost me" when he insisted some "very fine people" participated in the white supremacist rally. "They were chanting things like, 'Jews will not replace us'. There's nothing good about that," Mr Benson said.

His co-host, Ms Timpf, a libertarian pundit, exhaled deeply. "It was one of the biggest messes that I've ever seen," she said.

Disbelief also dominated the early reaction on MSNBC and CNN, where Mr Tapper ended his show by addressing viewers.

"To anybody out there watching today who is confused and thinks, 'I thought that the Klan and neo-Nazis and white supremacists, I thought there was no debate about this thing among civilised people' - there isn't a debate about it," he said.

Like many of Mr Trump's dramatic moments, Tuesday's impromptu question-and-answer session unspooled on cable television. But as the President's exchanges grew testier, ABC and CBS cut into regular programming to carry the news conference, adding millions of households to the audience.

By prime time, TV's usual divides had returned. Mr Anderson Cooper on CNN opened his show by saying: "A few hours ago, the President of the United States revealed so clearly who and what he really is." Mr Cooper also asked: "Has any president in modern history lied so frequently and so fast as this one?"

But Fox News had a different take. Mr Tucker Carlson said Mr Trump "fired back at the media" and then went on to discuss famous historical figures, including Thomas Jefferson and Plato, who owned slaves.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'President stuns TV hosts with fiery remarks'. Print Edition | Subscribe