The suspect, Cesar Sayoc, was a fan of the president and allegedly mailed packages to prominent left-wing figures who have criticized the president. An analysis of news coverage shows that the two newspapers emphasized the facts that fit their narrative and insinuated that Trump was to blame.
The New York Times published on Oct. 26 a news article with the headline “Before Cesar Sayoc was a bombing Suspect, he was a Trump superfan.” The Washington Post, on Oct. 27, published a news article headlined “How the package-bomb suspect found inspiration in Trump.”
The New York Times reported that Sayoc attended two Trump rallies, at which the president criticized Hillary Clinton and CNN. The newspaper appears to suggest, without saying outright, that Trump’s criticism of his opponents fueled Sayoc’s mail-bombing spree.
The newspaper didn’t attempt to offset its insinuation with the fact that criticism of political opponents is prevalent in today’s political climate, regardless of party affiliation.
The Washington Post, after painting a portrait of Sayoc as a serial liar who lived out of a van, cited a lawyer as saying the suspected mail bomber was drawn to Trump, because the president “welcomed all extremists, all outsiders, all outliers,” without noting the fact that Trump has repeatedly condemned all violence. By listing the charges that Sayoc faces in the very next paragraph, the Post insinuated a connection between the president and the mail-bomb spree.
There is no evidence to suggest, as both articles do, that the president motivated or inspired Sayoc to commit the attacks. Meanwhile, Sayoc’s track record with the law shows that he threatened to bomb a utility company long before he became a “Trump superfan.”
Even before Sayoc was caught and charged, both newspapers insinuated that Trump was to blame.
“Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, Mr. Soros and CNN have all figured prominently in right-wing political attacks—many of which have been led by Mr. Trump. He has often referred to major news organizations as ‘the enemy of the people,’ and has shown contempt for CNN,” a New York Times article stated two days before the bomber was caught.
The Washington Post, before knowing the identity of the suspected bomber, lumped all the targets into a neat category labeled “Trump critics.” Were the newspaper not driven by bias, “prominent Democrats” would be one way to describe all of the targets.
Pittsburgh Mass Shooting
While none of Sayoc’s makeshift bombs exploded and no one was injured, 11 people were killed in a mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27.
Rather than wait a few days, out of respect for the victims and their loved ones, both newspapers wasted no time in making politicized insinuations linking the president to that tragedy.
Considering the mental acrobatics required to blame the shooting on a president who is widely perceived to be a champion of Israel—even by the alleged attacker—one would expect the Post and the New York Times to relegate stories linking Trump to the shooting to the opinion section. Both newspapers, instead, ran articles with veiled hints linking Trump to the shooter in their news sections.
The front page of the print edition of the Post on Oct. 28 blamed Trump for both the synagogue shooting and the mail bombs, proclaiming, in a news headline, that “Trump, allies set the tone for the violence they denounce, critics say.” The piece drew a scathing comment from the White House.
“Is there any tragedy the Washington Post won’t exploit to attack President [Trump]?” Sanders wrote on Twitter in response to a photo of the Post’s front page. “The evil act of anti-Semitism in Pittsburg was committed by a coward who hated President Trump because [the president] is such an unapologetic defender of the Jewish community and state of Israel.”
The Post article makes no mention of the tone set by Trump’s critics, who called on their followers to harass the president’s supporters. The article also omits that Trump is the first president to follow through on a promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a move that drew praise from Jews all over the world.
Before quoting Trump’s response on its main article about the synagogue shooting on Oct. 27, The New York Times contextualizes the tragedy by, again, linking Trump to the mail bomber and stating that the president’s critics “have argued that he is partly to blame for recent acts of violence because he has been stirring the pot of nationalism.”
At a rally on Oct. 27, the president characterized the coverage of the mail bombings as the media’s attempt to score “political points” against him and the Republican party ahead of the midterm elections.
“And they do have a major role to play as far as tone,” Trump said. “The media’s constant unfair coverage … and negative attacks only serve to drive people apart and to undermine healthy debate.”