The Media Today

A climate of hate toward the press at Trump rallies

August 2, 2018

As CNN’s Jim Acosta stood in front of a camera, reporting from President Trump’s rally in Tampa on Tuesday evening, the chorus of taunts rose behind him. Panning over the Trump-friendly crowd screaming obscenities, chanting “CNN sucks,” and flashing middle fingers, Acosta tweeted, “I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt.”

Vitriol toward the media has been a feature of Trump events since the campaign, but this week, the venom ran particularly strong. Trump has recently stoked the flames of hatred toward the press, tweeting Sunday that journalists are “unpatriotic” and putting “the lives of many…at risk.” Last week, he told a group of veterans, “Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Added Tuesday to the toxic brew of grievance and hate, was the prevalence of rally-goers promoting QAnon, a truly irrational conspiracy theory too complex to explain in a newsletter, but that basically holds that Trump is locked in battle with deep state forces in politics and the media. As The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan writes, the coming out party of QAnon supporters means that Trump’s rallies have gone “from nasty to dangerous.”

RELATED: America’s role in a ‘climate of hatred’ for journalists

Several journalists commented on an atmosphere of hostility in Tampa that went beyond anything they had seen before. Offered the opportunity on Wednesday to condemn the venom foisted on journalists by some of the president’s supporters, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders fell back on a “both sides” defense. She denounced any group that would incite violence, but then went off on an unrelated tangent, chastising the media for reporting on classified information. Pressed to specifically address the events at Trump’s Tampa rally, she could only offer: “While we certainly support freedom of the press, we also support freedom of speech, and we think that those things go hand in hand.”

Given Trump’s consistent media-bashing, it’s not surprising that members of his administration would refrain from criticizing those who take the same line as the president. But as Trump and his allies in the media demonstrate their ability to foment public vitriol toward the press, perhaps it’s worth considering the reaction if the target were not a professional class like journalists, but rather a racial minority, or a group of immigrants. The mob behavior on display at these rallies is, at times, downright frightening.

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Reporters have grown used to the jeers and taunts. But with the memory of June’s shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis fresh in everyone’s mind, the rising tide of hatred toward the press at Trump rallies has taken on a new dimension. As Sullivan writes in her coverage of the scene in Tampa, “the extreme aggression dropped the basement floor another level. This was a new low. And a scary one at that.”

Below, more on a climate of hatred toward journalists covering the president.

  • Tonight: President Trump will be at another rally, this one in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The New York Times’s Michael M. Grynbaum notes that Trump has pledged to increase the number of event he holds this fall, meaning “news organizations are anticipating an unnerving autumn, as their reporters prepare to fan out across the country for a fresh round of Trump rallies before the midterm elections.”
  • Acosta’s thoughts: It felt like we weren’t in America,” Acosta told HLN’s S.E. Cupp of his experience in Tampa. He added that, based on his conversations with people in the crowd, “These opinions that these folks have at these rallies, they’re shaped by what they see in the prime-time hours of Fox News and what they hear from some conservative news outlets…It’s very unfortunate, but it’s a pitting of American against American.”
  • Trump’s view: The president retweeted his son Eric, who had posted a clip of the crowd chanting “CNN sucks,” and added #Truth.
  • Pro-Trump media take: Fox News’s Sean Hannity supported those bashing the media, speaking through the camera to Acosta, and saying, “the people of this country, they’re screaming at you for a reason.” He called Acosta’s coverage “unfair” and “abusively biased.” Acosta responded Wednesday, writing, “Hannity is a propagandist for profit, peddling lies every night. He says he’s just a talk show host, not a journalist. But he’s injecting poison into the nation’s political bloodstream warping public attitudes about the press. I’m confident in the long run the truth will prevail.”
  • What is QAnon?: The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer offered an explainer on the “complex pro-Trump conspiracy theory that’s starting to having unpredictable effects in real life.
  • Rare briefing: Sanders responses Wednesday were notable because she had been absent from the briefing room for most of July. The White House held only three “daily” briefings during the month. “The relative scarcity and brevity of briefings is an issue that I raised with Sarah Sanders in our most recent meeting,” White House Correspondents Association President Olivier Knox told Politico’s Jason Schwartz. “Obviously, the White House press corps values formal opportunities in which we can ask questions of senior officials. I conveyed that my members were hopeful that we’d get back to a more normal schedule.”

Other notable stories 

  • For CJR, Steven Petrow writes about a reader who became his stalker. “For many journalists, threats and harassment are the new normal,” writes the USA Today
  • This week’s New York Times Magazine is dedicated to a single story: Nathaniel Rich’s examination of the period from the late 1970s to late 1980s in which we first came to an understanding of climate change, and failed to stop it.
  • The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters reports on the already heated battle between Shari Redstone and Les Moonves, which has been thrown into turmoil by sexual harassment and assault allegations against Moonves in a New Yorker “Brace yourselves, Hollywood,” Masters writes. “The Shari Redstone versus Leslie Moonves cage match is officially on, and some oddsmakers are predicting a dramatic outcome that will transform the industry landscape—both financially and culturally.” Fox Business’s Charlie Gasparino and Lydia Moynihan report that Moonves is expected to speak on the company’s earnings call Thursday afternoon.
  • Despite spending cuts and a digital push, Condé Nast lost more than $120 million last year, and the company is “expected to adopt a more radical strategy to ensure that it does not fade away,” according to The New York Times’s Edmund Lee and Sapna Maheshwari. They report that three titles—Brides, Golf Digest, and W—will be put up for sale in a further effort to stem the bleeding.
  • The 2020 Democratic presidential race is taking shape, write The Daily Beast’s Gideon Resnick, Sam Stein, and Maxwell Tani. A flood of political books, from Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and more, will hit the shelves over the next several months, and other potential candidates are spending more and more time on cable news. “Some are traveling the country, others are monopolizing the airwaves, and all of them are leaving the door open for a run,” they write.

ICYMI: Facebook shuts down possible Russian troll network ahead of midterms

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.