The slam from Trump triggered an almost-instant avalanche of criticism. A slew of GOP lawmakers spoke out against Trump’s online remarks, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calling them not “an appropriate comment.”
MSNBC decried Thursday’s Trump tweets as a form of “bullying,” saying in a statement, “It’s a sad day for America when the president spends his time bullying, lying and spewing petty personal attacks instead of doing his job.”
But deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News on Thursday that Trump, in fact, is the one who has been bullied.
The president, Sanders said to Fox’s Bill Hemmer, “isn’t going to be somebody who is bullied and allowed people — himself and those around him — to be personally attacked.”
Sanders followed that up with a further defense of Trump at the White House press briefing, where she said that in electing the president, voters had wanted a “fighter.”
Melania Trump, who announced in the days before the presidential election that she would embark on a children-focused, anti-cyberbullying campaign as first lady, defended her husband’s words through a spokeswoman.
“The first lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder,” Stephanie Grisham told CNN in a statement.
When asked if Trump’s tweets were in violation of Twitter’s anti-harassment policy — which states that users “may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others” — a Twitter spokesperson told The Hill, “We don’t comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons.”
Mark Feldstein, a University of Maryland broadcast journalism professor and former investigative correspondent, called Trump’s “deliberately crude personal attacks” on Brzezinski in a public forum such as Twitter “unprecedented.”
“Other presidents, like Richard Nixon, made offensive comments about journalists in private, but none ever intentionally launched such intimately nasty and insulting public broadsides on an individual reporter as these tweets from Trump,” Feldstein, the journalism historian and author of “Poisoning the Press,” about Nixon and the news media, told ITK.
“I’ve studied this enough to know that in more than 200 years of often acrimonious relations between presidents and the press, this really does reach a new low of personal vindictiveness to single out and shame a particular reporter in such a public fashion,” he said.
Despite the firestorm, several anti-bullying organizations and advocates remained noticeably silent about Trump’s digs.
The Minnesota-based PACER Center’s National Bullying Prevention Center didn’t immediately respond to ITK’s request for comment. Monica Lewinsky, who has become an outspoken anti-bullying activist, remained mum on the subject on her own Twitter account.
The Twitter outburst also led to new accusations of sexism against Trump, who has a long history of off-color remarks about women.
In 2015, Trump was widely condemned for saying Megyn Kelly, then of Fox News and one of the Republican presidential debate moderators, had “blood coming out of her wherever.”
Trump has also referred to NBC News journalist Katy Tur as “Little Katy” during campaign rallies.
His campaign for the White House was nearly torpedoed in October when video surfaced of him talking to an “Access Hollywood” reporter about grabbing women “by the pussy.” Trump apologized for those comments.
Democrats pounced on the president’s latest tweets, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) saying they were “blatantly sexist — no question about it.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also referred to Trump’s Thursday tweets as “absolutely” sexist in an interview with MSNBC.
The Democratic National Committee released a statement calling Trump’s “bullying tweets” about Brzezinski an “attack on women everywhere.”
Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center — a nonprofit progressive women’s media organization — told ITK in a statement, “President Trump has hit a new low in his despicable attacks on journalists and women.”
When asked to weigh in on Trump’s comments, conservative radio host and commentator Laura Ingraham directed ITK to her Thursday morning tweet:
The Twitter war also came a day after Trump made headlines when he interrupted a call with Ireland’s new prime minister to compliment the smile of a female correspondent, who was covering the call from the Oval Office.
While labeling Trump’s words “mean” and “hateful,” a media law expert contended they were unlikely to be considered libelous.
“That’s totally protected opinion,” Clay Calvert, a professor in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, said Thursday, of Trump commenting on Brzezinski’s I.Q. and calling her “crazy.”
“Name calling is safeguarded from a libel suit because it’s not factual assertion,” Calvert added.