President Donald Trump continued to berate journalists on Friday, zeroing in on two black women with comments that drew a letter of condemnation from the National Association of Black Journalists.
When Abby D. Phillip of CNN asked whether Trump wanted acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to rein in special counsel Robert Mueller, he responded: “What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.”
Mueller is investigating whether there was collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election — a probe Trump has decried as a witch hunt and which the new acting attorney general criticized before his appointment. Trump did not answer Phillip’s question.
Of April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks, one of his most frequent targets, Trump said: “You talk about somebody that’s a loser; she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing. She gets publicity and then she gets a pay raise or she gets a contract with, I think, CNN. But she’s very nasty. And she shouldn’t be. She shouldn’t be. You’ve got to treat the White House and the office of the presidency with respect.”
Earlier in the week, he tried to cut off Yamiche Alcindor of PBS NewsHour as she asked about his use of the word “nationalist” to describe himself and whether that empowered white nationalists.
“I don’t know why you would say that. That’s such a racist question,” he said while she continued to ask whether the Republican party was now seen as racist because of his rhetoric.
“I don’t believe that,” he said, as he juxtaposed “nationalist” with “globalist.” “I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that. Why do I have my highest poll numbers ever with African Americans. Why do I have among the highest poll numbers with African Americans. That’s such a racist question…Excuse me, but to say that, what you said, is so insulting to me. It’s a very terrible thing that you said.”
Trump has a history of denigrating black people and denigrating women so it is no surprise that he would dial up the animosity for black women, said Sherri Williams, an assistant professor of race, media and communication at American University. Trump’s disdain shows that they are doing their job, as they question him not only about race, which he is particularly sensitive about, but also about how his administration is operating, she said.
“They’re challenging the powerful and they’re demanding truth and they’re resisting this lack of transparency,” she said.
And Ryan published a Washington Post op-ed on Saturday titled "I’m a black woman. Trump loves insulting people like me," writing, "You can tell, though, by the way Trump has responded in recent days to more than one black woman journalist that he sees our presence there as illegitimate. If he didn’t, he’d either answer our questions or simply ignore them, not berate us."
He will face more of the same when the newly elected women take their seats in the House of Representatives next year, she said.
“The kinds of questions that he is facing from these black women reporters are the kinds of challenges that he is going to have to face from legislators in the coming months, so he might as well get used to it,” Williams said.
Trump’s latest attacks followed his party’s loss of control of the House. Recounts and runoffs loom in other races Republicans are anxious to win in Florida, where results in the governor’s and Senate races have narrowed, and in Georgia, where former state Rep. Stacey Abrams, another black woman, has refused to concede the governor's race to former Secretary of State Brian Kemp. With ballots still being counted, Trump and other Republicans started making unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud.
During the campaign, Trump said Abrams, a graduate of Yale Law School and the minority leader in the Georgia State House of Representatives, was “not qualified” for the job.
According to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, at least 102 women will serve in the U.S. House, and at least 43 women of color — 42 of them Democrats and one Republican. Another nine women, six Democrats and three Republicans, will serve as governors. Abrams, if she wins, would be the first black woman governor.
Adding to his difficulties with women on Friday, The Wall Street Journal published an account of what it said was Trump’s direct intervention to suppress stories about alleged sexual encounters with women. The article said interviews refuted denials from Trump and others that he was involved in payoffs to a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, and a former adult-firm actress, Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels. Trump has denied any sexual relationship with the women.
Trump has made some famously misogynistic comments, including one about “grabbing” women he was attracted to, and he has repeatedly denigrated black people, from Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, whom he has mocked as “an extraordinarily low IQ person,” to NBA superstar LeBron James (and CNN journalist Don Lemon) about whom Trump tweeted: “LeBron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do.” He called former White House official, Omarosa Manigault Newman, “that dog” and a “crazy, crying lowlife” after she accused him of racism.
The use of the word “dog” is “wonderfully dehumanizing, which is part of what I think he’s doing,” said Linda-Susan Beard, an associate professor of English and director of Africana Studies at Bryn Mawr College. “He’s undercutting the professionalism of these individuals. He’s suggesting that no black person in America of either gender is intellectually respectable.”
In a statement from the National Association of Black Journalists, the group’s president, Sarah Glover, who also is the social media editor for NBC Owned Television Stations, said, "The most powerful man in the free world is verbally abusing journalists. The past two years have been filled with assaults on the media and Donald Trump's comments this week have reached an all-time low with attacks on three black female journalists. His dismissive comments toward journalists April Ryan, Abby Phillip and Yamiche Alcindor are appalling, irresponsible, and should be denounced."
The association, which noted that Phillip is a former Washington Post reporter and a graduate of Harvard University, called on the president to stop his verbal assault not only on black women journalists but on all journalists.
The White House press office did not respond immediately when asked in an email if the president was singling out black women for criticism.
This week the White House suspended CNN’s Jim Acosta’s credentials, accusing him of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern.”
Video of the press conference on Wednesday does not appear to back up that claim. Acosta was engaged in a tense exchange with the president during a press conference on Wednesday when his arm seems to have brushed against the intern’s as she repeatedly tried to grab the microphone from him. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later released video meant to back the White House’s version of events, but which was widely dismissed as doctored.
Even as journalists condemned the action against Acosta, Trump on Friday threatened other reporters’ press passes if they did not treat the White House with respect.