More than 200 journalists, most of them retired or semi-retired, accused US President Donald Trump of a “sustained pattern” of attacking media in an open letter published a day after a spate of suspected pipe bombs were sent to CNN and several prominent Trump critics.
“Trump’s condoning of political violence is part of a sustained pattern of attack on a free press – which includes labeling any reportage he doesn’t like as ‘fake news’ and barring reporters and news organisations whom he wishes to punish from press briefings and events,” stated the letter, which was published on Thursday morning.
Lambasting Trump’s recent praise for a violent assault on a Guardian journalist, the letter went on to accuse Trump of undermining media freedoms and inciting violence against the press.
Among the signatories were former press workers for CNN, ABC and Los Angeles Times.
Starting with a suspected explosive device sent to the home of liberal billionaire philanthropist and financier George Soros, at least 10 packages containing pipe bombs have been mailed to prominent critics of Trump this week.
Other packages were addressed to former US President Barack Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, US Congresswoman Maxine Waters, actor Robert Deniro and former CIA director John Brennan in care of CNN, among others.
The incident comes just two weeks before midterm elections, which are expected to be a referendum on Trump’s performance.
On Thursday morning, Trump renewed his attacks on the press, taking to Twitter in an apparent attempt to blame the media for the spate of suspected bombs.
“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” he tweeted.
“It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
His comments were met with derision from CNN President Jeff Zucker, who charged the Trump administration with “a total and complete lack of understanding … about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media”.
Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, described the string of packages as an “act of terror”.
“Don’t encourage violence, don’t encourage hatred, don’t encourage attacks on media,” he added without naming Trump.
“Unfortunately this atmosphere of hatred is contributing to the choices people are making to turn to violence.”
But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended Trump’s comments on Thursday morning. “Day in, day out, there is a negative tone,” Sanders told press outside the White House.
“You guys continue to focus only on the negative and there is a role to play.”
Since coming to office, Trump has been widely criticised by rights groups and press freedom organisations for his frequent criticism of the media.
After five press workers were killed by a shotgun-wielding man in Maryland in June, the US became the second most dangerous country for journalists during the first half of 2018, according to the International News Safety Institute.