My journalism career has peaked. Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States, has called me “fake news.”
This definitely wasn’t a personal attack –– he called out the entire media section –– but I was there, with an official White House Press Pool badge between CNN, Fox News and other news outlets.
During Monday’s MAGA rally at Freedom Hall, Trump made sure to call out the media several times. My favorite insult of the hour was a comparison between media and Democrats.
“We had to fight the Democrats, but more difficult was fighting the media,” Trump said. “That was much more difficult.”
At this point, all the Trump supporters in the audience directed their attention to our media section and booed us, gave thumbs-down gestures and made other insults.
Trump then continued to attack the media after the boos faded.
“Fighting the media is tougher than fighting the Democrats, but they’re equal partners,” he said.
Although I was more occupied with gathering content for the East Tennessean’s coverage of the event than being offended by Trump’s words, I remember looking at Tyler Wicks, our multimedia editor and the only other ET member in the press section, wide-eyed. It was really happening. The sitting president was calling us –– student journalists –– fake news.
You have to understand that for the entire week leading up to the rally I had waited for official press credentials. I wanted them so badly to experience news coverage in the most official capacity imaginable. When we finally got our confirmation on Sunday, I was thrilled. It was my chance to be part of the fake news media that Donald Trump speaks of so often.
I completely disagree with the idea of “fake news.” I believe there is sometimes bad practice in journalism, but I also know that the core value of the press, including the East Tennessean, is to seek truth –– something I think we uphold to the best of our abilities.
However, I also believe being called fake news by Trump is the highest form of flattery I’ll ever get in this field. It means I was there with the free press, which I believe to be the necessary foundation of a free country.
The whole experience, from being labeled by the man himself to acting as official press, was exhilarating. If I’m being honest, I would say it was the best day of my life.
Besides Trump’s words, I was shouted at by an official for trying to leave the media pit, which was literally surrounded by metal fences and locked two hours before the president was expected. A CBS News camera operator pushed me to get out of his shot. I smacked my head against many telephoto lenses. I got to experience CNN’s Jim Acosta be heckled as the audience chanted, “Go home, Jim!” I witnessed one Trump supporter smack his own butt in an attempt to catch Acosta’s attention.
When we finally left, I kept repeating how incredible the whole experience was as a media professional and as an American citizen.
To top off the evening, Tyler and I were yelled at by a car of teenage boys shouting, “Fake news! This is real America!” as we left –– finally enjoying a personal attack on the East Tennessean.