President Trump used his first speech to military service members Monday to accuse the news media of refusing to report on terrorist attacks.
Speaking at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Trump rattled off a series of strikes carried out by “radical Islamic terrorists,” including Sept. 11 and the more recent violence in Orlando, Fla.; San Bernardino, Calif.; Paris; and Nice, France.
“It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported,” he told a group of senior commanders. “And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it.”
The president implied that media organizations have an ulterior motive to bury coverage of such attacks.
“They have their reasons, and you understand that,” he said.
Trump continues a feud with the news media that stretches back to the very beginning of his presidential campaign.
The comments resemble recent claims by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that the media refused to cover the nonexistent “Bowling Green massacre.” After coming under criticism, Conway has since said that she “misspoke.”
Separate reports on Monday indicated that Conway on at least two earlier occasions had talked of a violent incident in Bowling Green, Ky. No attack happened, but two Iraqi citizens were arrested in 2011 for attempting to send arms and money to terrorists in Iraq.
The president earlier on Monday bashed The New York Times over its report on chaos and confusion within the White House.
Trump also criticized news organizations for publishing opinion polls showing him with historically low approval ratings and for running stories highlighting the power amassed by his senior counselor, Stephen Bannon.
“I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it. Some FAKE NEWS media, in order to marginalize, lies!” he tweeted.
I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it. Some FAKE NEWS media, in order to marginalize, lies!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2017
In the first 17 days of his presidency, Trump has twice gone after the press at two major U.S. national security sites. Trump claimed in a speech to the Central Intelligence Agency one day after being sworn in as president that “dishonest” reporters downplayed the size of his inauguration crowd.
Trump also used his speech to issue a stern ultimatum to ISIS and other Islamic militant groups, offering a defense of his efforts to shield the nation from terror plots, including his controversial travel ban.
“Today we deliver a message in one very unified voice to these forces of death and destruction: America and its allies will defeat you,” the president said. “We will defeat them. We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism. And we will not allow to it take root in our country. Not going to allow it.”
With his visit to Florida, Trump is trying to show that he’s a friend of the military.
MacDill is home to U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, which are responsible for leading the fight against groups like ISIS and al Qaeda in the Middle East. He received a briefing from both military groups and ate lunch with enlisted personnel.
Trump sought to highlight his bonds with the military by referring to polls that showed he was popular among service members during the 2016 campaign.
“We had a wonderful election, didn’t we? And I saw those numbers — and you like me, and I like you,” he said.
The president pledged to follow through on his goal of investing in “beautiful new equipment” for the armed forces.
During the campaign, Trump outlined plans to buy more ships for the Navy and aircraft for the Air Force and to increase the size of the Army and Marines Corps.
Once in office, Trump ordered Defense Secretary James Mattis to conduct a “readiness review” to kick off his military buildup, and Mattis has started by ordering the Pentagon to prepare a supplemental budget request for this fiscal year.
Trump also sought to assuage concerns of some national security officials about the U.S. commitment to its NATO allies.
During the campaign, Trump dismissed the Cold War-era alliance as “obsolete” and complained other member nations weren’t making large enough military contributions.
“We strongly support NATO,” said Trump, who spoke with the organization’s secretary general over the weekend. “We only ask that all of the NATO members make their full and proper financial contributions to the NATO alliance, which many of them have not been doing. Many of them have not been even close.”
The air base visit also follows a Navy SEAL raid against al Qaeda in Yemen, which is part of Central Command’s responsibility. The raid led to the death of one SEAL and an unspecified number of civilians. Trump visited Dover Air Force Base last week to witness the return of Chief Special Warfare Operator William Owens’s body, but he did not mention the operation during the speech Monday.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a Marine veteran who fought in the Iraq War, slammed Trump for failing to mention the Yemen raid while touting his election win and denigrating the media.
“The first thing he talks about is the political campaign?” Gallego said in a phone interview after the speech. “That’s just disgusting.”
Gallego also said it was contradictory of Trump to pledge to give the military everything it needs while defending a travel ban that would hurt interpreters the military relies on overseas.
“You say you’re going to give them everything you can to get the job done, but how are you not connecting the fact that the refugee ban is on Muslim interpreters that the military needs?” he said.
Updated at 8:58 p.m.