President Donald Trump deleted a series of bitter tweets attacking journalists from The New York Times and other reporters over their coverage of his and the White House's overall response to the coronavirus.
The deleted tweets – in which Trump complained about reports of him "angrily eating a hamberger" and called upon the "Noble Committee" to reclaim the "Noble Prizes" given to journalists – offer the latest example of his struggle to keep a tight hold on his administration's message during the pandemic.
One of his most recent, and most-criticized, gaffes came Thursday, when he speculated at a White House press briefing whether injecting disinfectants can help to treat the coronavirus. He claimed the next day that he was being "sarcastic" when he asked about "a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning."
The White House had accused the press of taking his comments out of context, noting Trump has "repeatedly said" Americans should consult their doctors about coronavirus treatment. Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of household disinfectant brand Lysol, urged Americans not to attempt to inject or consume the cleaning product following Trump's remarks.
The president has put a spotlight on himself amid the outbreak, taking a starring role in the near-daily press briefings on the virus at the White House briefing room. But he has continued to lash out at media figures, in person and on social media, over coverage he dislikes.
On Sunday, his target was The New York Times. "I work from early in the morning until late at night, haven't left the White House in many months (except to launch Hospital Ship Comfort) in order to take care of Trade Deals, Military Rebuilding etc.," Trump wrote in a since-deleted pair of tweets, which have been recovered by various online services.
"And then I read a phony story in the failing @nytimes about my work schedule and eating habits, written by a third rate reporter who knows nothing about me," Trump said.
"I will often be in the Oval Office late into the night & read & see that I am angrily eating a hamberger & Diet Coke in my bedroom. People with me are always stunned. Anything to demean!" he said.
The White House did not respond to CNBC's inquiry about why the president deleted the tweets. He later retweeted the tweets, correcting the misspelling of "hamburger."
Trump appeared to be responding to the newspaper's report published Thursday, describing him as a "sour president" who is increasingly isolated, worried and frustrated about his portrayal in the media.
Trump has experienced a backlash even among his own Republican supporters who say that his lengthy, freewheeling performances at the daily press briefings are doing more harm than good, the Times reported. Recent polls show Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic nominee in 2020, neck and neck in six key battleground states crucial for Trump's reelection.
The report did not say that Trump's recent habits include eating hamburgers from his bedroom, but did say that the president will watch television after the briefings with aides in his dining room, where "comfort food — including French fries and Diet Coke — is readily available."
White House staffers appeared to push back on the Times' portrayal. They told the New York Post on Sunday that Trump's schedule is so busy that he often skips lunch.
Annie Karni, one of the journalists on the Times' report, tweeted in response to the Post that her story did not accuse the Trump of laziness, but rather of being consumed by media coverage.
Karni, herself a former New York Post reporter, also noted that officials who wanted to emphasize Trump's around-the-clock schedule would highlight the fact that the president would hold working lunches with cabinet officials.
Later Sunday, in a separate deleted Twitter thread, Trump attacked "all of the 'reporters' who have received Noble Prizes for their work on Russia, Russia, Russia, only to have been proven totally wrong (and, in fact, it was the other side who committed the crimes)."
The president asked when those reporters will "be turning back their cherished 'Nobles' so that they can be given to the REAL REPORTERS & JOURNALISTS who got it right."
"When will the Noble Committee DEMAND the Prizes back, especially since they were gotten under fraud? The reporters and Lamestream Media knew the truth all along," Trump wrote. "Lawsuits should be brought against all, including the Fake News Organizations, to rectify this terrible injustice. For all of the great lawyers out there, do we have any takers? When will the Noble Committee Act? Better be fast!"
Trump later tweeted that he had not simply misspelled "Nobel Prizes," which are awarded annually for outstanding contributions in several categories. Rather, the president again said he was being sarcastic.
Despite the president's reported resistance to willingly give up a captive audience of millions, he may soon take a step back from the briefings.
He took no questions at the previous briefing Friday, which at 22 minutes marked one of the shortest pressers yet for the White House coronavirus task force. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said earlier Monday that the president was not expected to attend the task force's next briefing, which was originally scheduled to be held at 5 p.m. ET.
McEnany tweeted that Trump will brief the nation about "additional testing guidance and other announcements about safely opening up America again" during a press conference later Monday.
Earlier Monday morning, Trump fired off more anti-media tweets, describing the "Lamestream" media as "THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!"
There are more confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the United States than in any other country: More than 965,000 infections and more than 54,000 deaths have been confirmed, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The outbreak, which originated near the city of Wuhan in China's Hubei province, has tanked the U.S. economy, casting a shadow over Trump's most-used argument for his reelection in November.