COMMENTARY: Physical attacks on media never acceptable

by Feb 15, 2019OPINIONS





One of the United States’ founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t always a fan of the media. However, he did have this to say. “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” In those days there was no radio, TV. There was no internet, no social media. Still his words apply.

The late Sen. John McCain, a presidential candidate who also had his irritation with the media, said this. “If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started. They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power. When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.” McCain was in a position to know. He was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese government, who, to this day, remains one of the world’s most repressive when it comes to a free press.

At a pro Trump rally in El Paso, Texas, a man attacked a BBC camera operator while screaming “f*** the media.” Other supporters chanted “let him go” as he was detained.

Playing devil’s advocate here, yes Trump supporters get threatened, harassed, even assaulted, and that’s wrong. Members of Trump’s cabinet also get to deal with harassment, refusals of service, and White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway alleges she was assaulted at a restaurant. All of this is wrong. But is the leadership of President Trump’s opposition calling for and encouraging this? Aside from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), no. And not even Waters is calling them the enemy of the state and pointing them out consistently the way Trump is to journalists.

Trump regularly singles out the media working his events, knowing full well it’s a hostile crowd whipped up by his “enemy of the state” rhetoric. It was he who branded long-time reputable news organizations as “fake news.” It was Trump who praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for assaulting a news reporter. “Any guy who can do a body slam, he is my type,” he stated at a rally to cheers. Then there was the president’s Tweet depicting Trump beating someone outside of a wrestling ring with a CNN logo covering their face.

The media hasn’t been his only target. He’s gone on record defending the use of violence against opponents, including statements like “knock the crap out of them,” and offering to pay the legal fees of anyone charged in assaulting a protester.

While most Trump supporters have been peaceful, even while vehemently joining in on criticizing the press, there have been some unhinged among his crowd that have been willing participants in his war against the media. Last October Cesar Sayoc was arrested and charged with interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents and other persons, threatening interstate communications and assaulting current and former federal officers. Sayoc’s van was covered in pro-Trump decals, along with one reading “CNN Sucks” with pundit Van Jones depicted in crosshairs. CNN and several Democratic politicians received mail bombs allegedly tied to Sayoc. Sayoc has also been spotted at Trump rallies.

Trump’s propensity to encourage violence is easy to document. In fact, it’s as easy to document as his racism (check out his 1993 testimony about Indian gaming). Just use Google, and it’s non-partisan in how it retrieves results despite ridiculous assertions (Somehow algorithms and metadata are biased?) to the contrary.

It is the job of the media to hold elected officials accountable. How well we do that, and whether we do it without bias is a matter of opinion. But it’s our job, and it’s a job that responsible, respectable elected leaders will support, even when it could paint them unfavorably.

For those who will sympathize or even agree with Trump’s assessment of the media, know this. We are your neighbors. Our kids go to your schools. We go to your churches. We buy cookies from your daughter’s Girl Scouts troop. Our kids play on the same sports teams as yours. We’re not your enemy, and we’re certainly not the enemy of the United States. We don’t deserve to be targets of violence.

I hope that when an elected leader, like the president, goes out of the way to discredit and even demonize the media, that you all would be immediately suspicious of their motives. In other words, ask what they have to hide. If you don’t trust the medium’s reporting, get a second opinion.

Any elected leader who believes in democracy and freedom will cherish and defend the rights of the press and would rightfully condemn attacks on those who work in the media. If Trump truly wants to be a great leader, he’ll deal with the media in a matter more akin to Thomas Jefferson and less like Hugo Chavez.