President Donald Trump escalated his war of words with the mainstream media, sending out an early morning tweet on Sunday that appeared to show him attacking CNN — a frequent target of the president's ire — in a wrestling-style move.
Just days after being embroiled in a dispute with the hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Trump blasted CNN as a "fraud," using a doctored GIF of his appearance on a World Wrestling Entertainment episode years ago. A CNN logo was superimposed on one of the figures, whom Trump tackles, then begins pummeling as he lay prostrate on the ground.
The president's attacks on CNN have amplified in recent days, after CNN retracted an investigative report on Trump's ties to Russia that resulted in the resignations of three journalists.
In a statement on Sunday, CNN responded by branding Trump's tweet as "juvenile behavior" that was "below the dignity" of a sitting president. On Saturday, the president tweeted that his use of social media was in fact an avatar of a "modern day" presidency.
"It is a sad day when the President of the United States encourages violence against reporters," the network said. "Instead of preparing for his overseas trip, his meeting with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, dealing with North Korea or working on his health care bill, he is instead involved in juvenile behavior far below the dignity of his office."
Some journalists and political observers immediately seized on the tweet as evidence that Trump was encouraging violence against the media — an accusation that Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders disputed just last week.
"We condemn the president's threat of physical violence against journalists," said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "This tweet is beneath the office of the presidency. Sadly, it is not beneath this president."
"Trump retweeted himself from the official presidential account, thereby ensuring the National Archives will preserve that tweet for all time."
Trump's latest tweet comes as even some of the president's staunchest supporters have begun questioning his prolific use of social media. Major votes on health care and tax reform loom on the horizon. The polarized environment, as well as divisions among Republicans, have called into question Trump's ability to corral support for his biggest legislative priorities.
The issue of Trump's tone on social media, and politically-inspired violence in general, has been festering in recent weeks.
In May, Montana Republican Greg Gianforte defeated a political novice to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in a special election. In the immediate run up to the vote, Gianforte was charged with assaulting a reporter who asked him about the GOP healthcare bill.
And just last month, James Hodgkinson, an avowed supporter of Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders, shot Congressman Steve Scalise and three others in Alexandria, Virginia.
—Reuters contributed to this report.