“Now, you know we have a lot of fake news back there, these fakers.” That’s what President Donald Trump said in South Carolina on Monday. Not to be outdone by his “daddy”, far-right agent provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos texted to a reporter, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”
Today, a gunman opened fire and killed at least five people at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland. Though it’s still unclear what motivated the gunman to open fire, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this climate of fear can also be incredibly deadly.
The words and their frightening meaning
Ever since he began running for President, Donald Trump has threatened the press. He’s repeatedly called for weakening reporters’ First Amendment protection. Last October, he toyed with the idea of challenging media organizations’ FCC licenses. In May, Trump threatened to pull White House credentials from news organizations he doesn’t like. And just this week, Trump attacked the reporters covering his campaign rally in South Carolina by using his tried and (so very un)true “fake news” slur.
I know about this disturbing pattern all too well, as I’ve had to live through some of it myself. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced physical violence while at work. However there were multiple times when I was personally verbally attacked by Trump supporters during a Trump rally, and one instance when I had to witness Trump supporters attack another reporter in the press pen. The only other time I felt so much hostility over my line of work was during the immediate aftermath of the 2016 Nevada State Democratic Convention, when I and a few others debunked conspiracy theories surrounding Bernie Sanders’ loss.
Getting back to Trump, what makes his words and his actions more disturbing is the effect he has on his core base of supporters. His personal attorney and self-proclaimed “fixer” Michael Cohen threatened a reporter over the phone in 2015. Trump’s friends at American Media Inc. use their expansive portfolio of tabloid outlets, such as the National Enquirer and Radar Online, to carry out Trump’s vendettas against his enemies (including others in the media). And just this week, Milo Yiannopoulos called for the assassination of journalists. Maybe I’m missing something here, but none of this feels like a “call to civility”.
The action that haunts us today
Devastated & heartbroken. Numb. Please stop asking for information/interviews. I’m in no position to speak, just know @capgaznews reporters & editors give all they have every day. There are no 40 hour weeks, no big paydays – just a passion for telling stories from our communty.
— john, wendi, gerald, rebecca, rob (@jd3217) June 28, 2018
Earlier today, a gunman opened fire on the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis. At least five people were killed, and many more are considered to be “gravely injured”. So far, all we know about who did it and why is that a lone gunman entered the building and began to shoot. The lead suspect has already been arrested, and he’s now in police custody.
Still, let’s not kid ourselves here. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. At the very least it doesn’t help when the President of the United States uses his “bully pulpit” to bully the media day in and day out, then stands back as his supporters do the dirty work of smearing reporters and threatening violence against them. During the campaign, and in his presidency, Trump has placed targets on the backs of journalists throughout the country who dare to report the truth, including the truth that Trump doesn’t want to see the light of day.
Whatever we ultimately learn about why this happened, we can’t forget the series of events that led up to this tragedy. And really, we can’t afford not to realize that words and actions do have consequences.
Oh, and one more thing: If you know anyone who works in journalism, please drop that someone a note of thanks for all the hard work one does day in and day out to keep the public informed. Perhaps buy a subscription (or if more applicable, make a donation) to your trusted local news outlet to show your support. And next time you see a politician whine about “the unfair media” and “fake news”, tell that politician to knock it off and show more respect for the U.S. Constitution.