NEW YORK (AP) – The media brought a reverence for history and ceremony to its coverage of President Donald Trump’s inaugural on Friday, yet deep divisions exposed in the campaign that brought him there weren’t far from the surface.
With the armchair psychologists reading the expressions on Hillary Clinton’s face, several sour reviews of Trump’s inaugural address and images of rock-throwing protesters, the air of celebration was muted. Non-news networks ESPN, BET and MTV aired the moment when Barack Obama was sworn in eight years ago. Not this time.
An anti-Trump demonstration in Washington, D.C., was essentially ignored by television networks until the stands set up for dignitaries witnessing the oath of office cleared. Then pictures of demonstrators clashing with police emerged.
No doubt an incoming administration and supporters who frequently view the media as the enemy were taking notes.
“It’s just disappointing that it’s starting out with a little bit of a cloud,” New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins said on ABC, in a discussion about colleagues who stayed away from Trump’s inaugural in protest. “But that’s the decision that they’re making.”
The living ex-presidents attended Trump’s oath of office, with the exception of the hospitalized George H.W. Bush. Both Nicolle Wallace on NBC and Bob Schieffer on CBS noted that there was no evidence any of them voted for Trump.
Clinton reacted with silence when she arrived at the Capitol with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and reporters shouted questions about what it felt like to attend her rival’s inauguration. Some on TV, like ABC’s Anita McBride, didn’t even need a reply: “That’s not the smile of a woman who is happy to be here right now,” she said.
“It’s gotta sting,” NBC’s Lester Holt said.
Although some shouts of “lock her up” within the audience echoed the campaign, there was a moment of televised grace at the luncheon that followed when Trump saluted Clinton and dignitaries in attendance stood and applauded.
Following Trump’s 16-minute inaugural address, Brian Williams on MSNBC drew a contrast to the new president’s image of an “American carnage” to the call to action in President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 speech.
Several commentators noted that the speech was aimed more at Trump’s supporters than constituents who are suspicious of him.
“I have to say it was surprisingly divisive for an inaugural address,” said NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. “It’s tough to be both a unifier and that populist carrier. He went with populism and I think it’s going to play well with his folks but that wasn’t the type of inaugural address that was intended to bring this country together.”
ABC’s Tom Llamas called it the first speech of Trump’s re-election campaign.
“For anyone who hoped or thought that the magnitude of the moment would change Donald Trump, they were completely wrong,” he said.
The speech was a repudiation to many of the politicians who surrounded Trump, analysts said. “It was definitely a bipartisan hand grenade,” said CBS’ Gayle King.
While the speech was dark, “if you were a Trump voter, you heard everything you wanted to hear,” said CNN’s John King.
On Fox News Channel, overwhelmingly the news source of choice for Trump supporters, analyst Dana Perino called the speech “very muscular.” Tucker Carlson said it was populist, not conservative.
“Not poetic, but quite strong,” Brit Hume said. “He painted this dark landscape of circumstances in America and promised to fix them all.”
On social media, veteran commentator Keith Olbermann urged fans to boycott television coverage of the inauguration. Olbermann may not have been following his own advice, since he tweeted “Impeach Trump Now” less than a minute after the oath of office was administered.
Footage of anti-Trump protests filled the television void between the inaugural address and parade, and instantly became part of the divisive political conversation.
“If you want to help Donald Trump have a good start to his presidency, go out on the streets and throw rocks at police officers,” said Fox News Channel’s Chris Stirewalt, who said the images should solidify Trump’s support in middle America.
It’s a new era in Washington, and at no point was it clearer as when networks showed split-screen pictures of President Trump signing papers on one side, and former President Barack Obama speaking to fans shortly before boarding an airplane for California. Slowly, ABC turned the volume down on Obama and up on Trump.
CNN wiped Obama’s picture off its screen altogether.
Associated Press writers Frazier Moore and Mark Kennedy in New York, and Lynn Elber in Los Angeles, contributed to this report.