Trump Turns Attack on MSNBC Journalist Into Rally Fodder

By Katie Robertson

At multiple campaign stops, the president has gotten laughs by inaccurately recounting Ali Velshi’s being hit by a rubber bullet while covering a protest.

President Trump in Dayton, Ohio, this week. The U.N. has issued resolutions condemning “hostile rhetoric by political leaders against the press.”
President Trump in Dayton, Ohio, this week. The U.N. has issued resolutions condemning “hostile rhetoric by political leaders against the press.”Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

Claims of “fake news” have long been a staple of President Trump’s rally speeches. But in recent days, with the election less than six weeks off, he has made his rhetorical attacks on the news media more personal, with repeated references to a specific reporter’s suffering an injury while on the job.

At a rally in Bemidji, Minn., on Friday, Mr. Trump went after the MSNBC anchor and correspondent Ali Velshi by name, describing a moment when Mr. Velshi was hit in a knee by a rubber bullet in May while reporting on a Minneapolis protest prompted by the police killing of George Floyd. (The incident was captured live on MSNBC.)

“It was the most beautiful thing,” Mr. Trump said, after incorrectly stating that Mr. Velshi had been hit by a tear-gas canister. He added, “It’s called law and order.”

The president brought up the incident again the next day at a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., to more applause.

In a Twitter reply to Mr. Trump on Saturday, Mr. Velshi wrote, “So, @realDonaldTrump, you call my getting hit by authorities in Minneapolis on 5/30/20 (by a rubber bullet, btw, not a tear-gas canister) a ‘beautiful thing’ called ‘law and order.’ What law did I break while covering an entirely peaceful (yes, entirely peaceful) march?”

Mr. Velshi declined to comment further.

MSNBC said in a statement on Saturday, “When the president mocks a journalist for the injury he sustained while putting himself in harm’s way to inform the public, he endangers thousands of other journalists and undermines our freedoms.”

At a Tuesday night rally in Moon Township, Pa., Mr. Trump repeated the attack. This time, he did not identify Mr. Velshi by name, referring to him, incorrectly, as “that idiot reporter from CNN” and remarking on his baldness.

“And he went down,” Mr. Trump said, to laughs from the crowd. “‘I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit!’”

The president went on to describe the National Guard’s moving on a crowd of protesters that included reporters. “They grabbed one guy — ‘I’m a reporter! I’m a reporter!’ ‘Get out of here.’ They threw him aside like he was a little bag of popcorn,” Mr. Trump said, to more laughs from the crowd.

“Honestly,” the president added, “when you watch the crap that we’ve all had to take so long, when you see that, it’s actually — you don’t want to do that — but when you see it, it’s actually a beautiful sight.”

Before celebrating attacks on journalists at his rallies, Mr. Trump frequently used the phrase “enemy of the people” to refer to news outlets he does not view favorably. Carlos Martínez de la Serna, the program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement that Mr. Trump’s recent remarks were especially troubling.

“The president should not condone violence against journalists who were simply doing their jobs,” he said.

Mr. Trump has used an assault on a reporter as fodder for rally speeches in the past. At a 2018 event in Montana, he praised Representative Greg Gianforte, Republican of Montana, for body-slamming a journalist. (Mr. Gianforte was sentenced to community service and anger management classes for the assault on the reporter, Ben Jacobs, who was with The Guardian.)

Globally, violence toward the press is on the rise. A recent UNESCO report found that “there has been a notable escalation of attacks against the press” covering protests.

“The U.N. in several resolutions has expressed concern at hostile rhetoric by political leaders against the press,” the report said. “Such incitement is often in the context of mass gatherings and creates a wider climate in which journalists are targeted at a range of events.”

Civil rights protests and unrest across the country this year have included a number of assaults by law enforcement officials on reporters covering demonstrations. A TV reporter in Louisville, Ky., was hit by a pepper ball while on the air. The CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew were arrested on camera while covering a protest in Minneapolis.