CNN’s president has slammed Donald Trump for his “total and complete lack of understanding” about the impact of his attacks on the media after the US news network was evacuated during a thwarted bomb attack.
Trump condemned the threat of political violence and urged the media to end its “hostility” just hours after authorities intercepted bombs sent to CNN and prominent Democrats who have been the targets of some of his sharpest barbs.
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The president’s pleas for harmony came as law enforcement officials scrambled to find the perpetrator of the thwarted bomb attacks against former president Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, CNN and others.
The glass-filled pipe bombs were all examined and disposed of without detonation after law enforcement took them away.
The message for the media to “set a civil tone” was a dissonant one for the president, who has repeatedly blasted his political opponents as criminals and argued that they will destroy the country if they win control of Congress.
“We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony,” he said at a campaign rally in central Wisconsin. “Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy itself.”
Trump has frequently labelled stories he does not like as “fake news” and many reporters as “enemies of the people”.
He has also denounced political enemies in deeply personal terms and even described those who tried to thwart his second Supreme Court nominee as “evil”.
Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, said in a statement: “There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media.
“The president, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.”
Last night the president highlighted the unusually subdued tone of his remarks.
“By the way, do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight?” he said. “Have you ever seen this?”
The CNN package was addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan, who has publicly clashed with Trump and is a regular television contributor.
Speaking at an event in Austin, Texas, Brennan called the spate of pipe bombs “an unfortunate turn of events”.
“Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump, too often, has helped to incite some of these feelings of anger, if not violence, when he points to acts of violence or also talks about swinging at somebody from the press, the media,” he said.
The package sent to CNN contained a live explosive, with wires and a black pipe, and an envelope with white powder, officials said.
The powder was tested and determined to have been harmless, according to a law enforcement official.
New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill says investigators are reviewing security video to see if they can identify a courier believed to have delivered the pipe bomb package to CNN’s office, which was closed for more than four hours.
O’Neill said in an appearance on CNN that he was “pretty sure those images will be caught on video and we’ll be able to find out where that person came from before they entered the building and where they went to after”.
The attempted bombings have prompted debate over whether increasingly personal and hard-edged rhetoric has contributed to a potentially dangerous political climate.
Trump critics have blamed him for the tone, but he did not take any responsibility.
Those “engaged in the political arena” must “stop treating political opponents as being morally defective”, he said.
He also referenced high-profile incidents in which conservatives have been accosted in restaurants and public spaces by political critics.
He added: “The media also has a responsibly to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and often-times false attacks and stories.”
Picture: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton