Thundering that the media is the "fake, fake disgusting news," US President Donald Trump has unleashed a torrent of grievances at a Pennsylvania campaign rally in which he casts journalists as his true political opponent.
Trump barnstormed in a state that he swiped from the Democrats in 2016 and that is home to a Senate seat he is trying to place in the Republicans' column this fall.
But the race between GOP US Rep. Lou Barletta and two-term incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Casey took a back seat on Thursday to Trump's invectives against the media, which came amid a backdrop of antagonism to journalists from the White House and hostility from the thousands packed into a loud, overheated Wilkes-Barre arena.
"Whatever happened to the free press? Whatever happened to honest reporting?" Trump asked, pointing to the media in the back of the hall.
"They don't report it. They only make up stories."
Time and time again, Trump denounced the press for underselling his accomplishments and doubting his political rise.
He tore into the media for diminishing what he accomplished at his Singapore summit with North Korea leader Kim Jung-un. He tore into the tough questioning he received in Helsinki when he met with Russia's Vladimir Putin last month. And he began the speech with a 10-minute remembrance of his 2016 election night victory, bemoaning that Pennsylvania wasn't the state to clinch the White House for him only because "the fake news refused to call it."
"They were suffering that night, they were suffering," Trump said of the election night pundits. He then promised that the Keystone State would deliver his margin of victory "next time."
"Only negative stories from the fakers back there," the president declared.
With each denunciation, the crowd jeered and screamed at the press in the holding pen at the back of the arena.
The inflammatory performance came just hours after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to distance herself from Trump's previous assertions that the media is the "enemy" of the American people. Pressed during a White House briefing on the issue, Sanders said Trump "has made his position known."
In a heated exchange with reporters, she recited a litany of complaints against the press and blamed the media for inflaming tensions in the country.
"As far as I know, I'm the first press secretary in the history of the United States that's required Secret Service protection," she said, accusing the media of continuing "to ratchet up the verbal assault against the president and everyone in this administration."
The rally has come at a perilous time for Trump, who the day before bluntly declared his attorney general should terminate "right now" the federal probe into the campaign that took him to the White House, a newly fervent attack on the special counsel investigation that could imperil his presidency.