WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Donald Trump launched a fresh attack on the news media Sunday (July 2) by tweeting a video - bizarre even by his standards - showing him knocking down and beating a professional wrestling "villain" whose face had been replaced by a CNN logo.
The 10-year-old video, hailing back to Trump's days as a guest celebrity at pro-wrestling events, came after a week in which his unrestrained Twitter attacks on two MSNBC talk show hosts drew widespread condemnation from members of both political parties.
In the 28-second video, Trump, dressed in a suit, is seen knocking down another man in a suit who is standing next to a wrestling ring. Trump then pummels the man, whose face is covered by the CNN logo, repeatedly over the head.
At the end of the video, a fake CNN logo appears in the lower right corner of the screen with the words "FNN: Fraud News Network."
A longer version of the same video found online shows that the man knocked down was World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) owner-promoter Vince McMahon, a friend of Trump's.
In the longer version, McMahon next appears in a chair in the middle of the ring, his wrists being tied down as Trump takes an electric razor to shave McMahon's head bald.
The stunt was part of a promotion at the WrestleMania 23 event dubbed The Battle of the Billionaires, with each man agreeing to let the other shave his head if his wrestler lost.
McMahon was present at the White House in February to pose smilingly with the president when his wife Linda McMahon - herself a former WWE executive, and Trump's nominee to head the Small Business Administration - was sworn into office.
Trump has recently picked up the pace of his attacks on the news media.
Besides the crude personal attack on MSNBC co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski - he called her "crazy" and "low IQ" and said he had seen her bleeding after a facelift - he tweeted his intention to start calling CNN #FraudNewsCNN, instead of #FakeNewsCNN which he had been using.
Amid a torrent of criticism over his attack on Brzezinski, Trump doubled down on Saturday, tweeting: "My use of social media is not Presidential - it's MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!"
With Trump’s tweets coming just weeks after a mass shooting at a congressional baseball practice, reporters on Thursday asked White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether his rhetoric might be promoting violence.
She replied: “The president in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary.” But the wrestling video prompted a wave of new recriminations.
“It is a sad day when the president of the United States encourages violence against reporters,” CNN said in a statement. “Clearly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied when she said the president had never done so.”
CNN went on to suggest that instead of engaging in “juvenile behaviour far below the dignity of his office,” Trump should be focusing on issues like health care, tensions with North Korea and his upcoming trip to Germany for a G-20 summit and his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
'A RIGHT TO RESPOND'
A White House official, homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert, defended Trump’s video and said it demonstrated the president’s “genuine ability to communicate to the people.”
“I think that no one would perceive that as a threat,” he said on ABC. “I hope they don’t. I do think that he’s beaten up in a way on cable platforms that he has a right to respond.”
But Republican Senator Ben Sasse rejected that argument, saying on CNN that while a politician has a right to complain about bad coverage, there is a difference between that and “trying to weaponise distrust.”
Meanwhile, several journalists said they feared Trump was stirring up anti-media violence. Annie Lowrey, a former New York Times reporter now with The Atlantic magazine, tweeted: “In seriousness, I am terrified that a journalist – perhaps one of the many political reporters I know and love – is going to end up dead.”