WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump opened a “listening session” on Wednesday for Black History Month by lashing out at one of his favorite targets for derision - the news media - complaining to a group of his supporters that most reporters who cover him are a “disgrace.”
Trump rehashed his grievances over a report that erroneously said a bust of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the White House Oval Office - a mistake that was quickly corrected but caused a stir on social media.
“It was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace, but that’s the way the press is,” Trump said, calling the report “fake news.”
Trump returned to the theme a couple of times during the portion of the event that was open to media. He slammed CNN, also calling it “fake news,” but praised Fox News, and took one more whack as reporters were led out of the Roosevelt Room.
“A lot of the media is actually the opposition party. They’re so biased. It’s a disgrace,” he said.
Trump has said he has a “running war” with the media, blaming it for underestimating his chances during the presidential campaign and accusing it of favoring his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. He has kept up the attacks since his Jan. 20 inauguration.
The listening session at the White House was attended by African-American supporters of Trump and other officials to celebrate the start of Black History Month and discuss issues affecting the black community.
Trump pledged during his campaign to improve the lives of black residents of inner cities and crack down on crime and violence in urban areas, especially in Chicago, where murders have spiked.
Last month, Trump threatened to “send in the Feds” if Chicago did not get its murder rate under control.
One of the attendees, Cleveland-based pastor Darrell Scott, said Trump would take a “proactive” approach to dealing with violence in Chicago that did not simply involve locking people up.
“We’re not just going to send in Feds and start arresting black people,” Scott told reporters.
Scott told Trump that some “gang” members from Chicago had reached out to him about having a meeting to reduce the violence, which Trump said he encouraged.
“If they’re not going to solve the problem – and what you’re doing is the right thing – then we’re going to solve the problem for them,” Trump told Scott while reporters were still in the room. “Because we’re going to have to do something about Chicago.”
Pastor Corey Brooks from New Beginnings Church of Chicago, who did not attend the session, said in a phone interview he had spoken with a White House official about a possible meeting with the gang leaders but that details were unclear.
Other religious leaders in Chicago were skeptical about such a meeting, saying the city’s splintered gangs no longer had clear leaders.
Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Roberta Rampton in Washington and Timothy McLaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Peter Cooney
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