“Let’s go to a real network.”
That’s what President Donald Trump said during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday after refusing to take a question from his perpetual target, CNN’s Jim Acosta. Instead, he called on John Roberts from Fox News.
“CNN is fake news,” Trump said as Acosta tried to get a question in. “I don’t take questions from CNN.”
In a statement to the Washington Post’s media critic Erik Wemple, who accused Roberts of “essentially validating the president’s hostile, baseless, authoritarian, gratuitous slam on a group of peers,” Fox News’ chief White House correspondent attempted to explain why he graciously thanked Trump and asked his question instead of pushing back against the attack on his colleague in the moment.
“In today’s press conference, I paused while my colleague from CNN went back and forth with President Trump over a question,” Roberts said. “When it became clear that the president wasn’t going to entertain a question from him, I proceeded with my question, as did my fellow colleagues in the press corps.”
Roberts went on to defend NBC News correspondents Kristen Welker, who Trump called “dishonest” during the same press conference for asking about his contentious relationship with NATO allies. “She is honest as the day is long,” Robert said of Welker. “For the President to call her dishonest is unfair.”
“I also used to work at CNN,” he added. “There are some fine journalists who work there and risk their lives to report on stories around the world. To issue a blanket condemnation of the network as ‘fake news’ is also unfair.”
In addition to sharing the written statement, Roberts also addressed the press conference incident on-air during his reporting from London for Fox News. After he reiterated those sentiments, host Harris Faulkner laughed as she said, “John Roberts, you always have people’s back. It’s impressive.”
Roberts’ comments come after CNN’s Jake Tapper called him out on Twitter earlier Friday morning. “Old enough to remember when other networks came to the defense of Fox News WH correspondents during the Obama years,” Tapper tweeted. “Such did not happen here.”
During a 2009 press conference by President Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs, Tapper, then a White House correspondent for ABC News, challenged the administration for labeling Fox News “not a news organization.”
“It’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations ‘not a news organization’ and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization,” Tapper said at the time. “Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one?”
After some back-and-forth, Gibbs ultimately defended the “sweeping” characterization, saying, “That’s our opinion.”