The Media Today

Trump’s press bashing reaches a critical mass

August 6, 2018

President Trump capped a week of media-bashing rallies, and the official endorsement of his view that the press is the “enemy of the people,” by reiterating his attacks on the press. “They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!” he tweeted Sunday. Plenty has been said about Trump’s continued undermining of journalism, but, as Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said yesterday, “it seemed to hit a critical mass this week.

As Trump has ratcheted up his media criticism, his supporters have been given the opportunity to show they’re getting the message. A trio of rallies provided scenes of hostility toward journalists doing their jobs, leading to frightening—and increasingly dire—predictions. The New York Times’s Bret Stephens wrote Friday about a threatening voicemail he received, in which the called said, “I don’t carry an AR but once we start shooting you f—ers you aren’t going to pop off like you do now. You’re worthless, the press is the enemy of the United States people.” Arguing that it’s only a matter of time until one of Trump’s devotees takes the president at his word, Stephens concludes, “We are approaching a day when blood on the newsroom floor will be blood on the president’s hands.

ICYMI: Sarah Jeong, The New York Times, and the Gamergate School of Journalism

Speaking about the venomous scenes from Trump’s Tampa rally, MSNBC’s Katy Tur explained that viewers were only getting part of the story. “What you saw and still see on TV, those boos and those taunts, are only part of it. What you do not see are the nasty letters, or packages, or emails, the threats of physical violence. ‘I hope you get raped and killed,’ one person wrote to me just this week,” Tur said. “So if anyone in the administration cares about the safety and security of journalists, the health of a free and unintimidated press—and by extension our democracy as a whole—please say something to your boss, your dad, your commander-in-chief, before it is too late.”

After interviewing Trump supporters at a Pennsylvania rally last week, The Washington Post’s Philip Bump came away with a simple conclusion: Trump is in a never-ending battle against the media because it works. This, as Bump admits, isn’t a novel revelation, but it’s worth acknowledging that the president is engaging in these theatrics for political gain. Trump is obsessed with the coverage he receives, and though he lambasts them as fake news, he reads the Post and the Times, and watches CNN regularly.

The short-term political profit that Trump gains from creating an us-against-them narrative comes at the cost of creating lasting damage in the relationship between the press and a large segment of the populace. That’s dangerous enough in its own right, but the increasing hostility toward journalists from the president’s supporters has reached the point where immediate concerns about reporters’ safety are now being openly discussed.

Sign up for CJR's daily email

Below, more on growing fears about the impact of Trump’s words.

  • In their own words: On Sunday’s Reliable Sources, CNN’s Brian Stelter played a clip of a threat broadcast on C-SPAN, in which a caller threatens to shoot Stelter and his colleague Don Lemon.
  • “The enemy of the people”: NPR’s Scott Simon compared Trump’s language to that used by dictators throughout history, adding, “if the president had called reporters nosy, cranky, contentious, or smart-alecky, many reporters would have laughed and agreed. But calling them—us—enemies of the people is the kind of curse made by tyrants.”
  • From words to action: Citing a study by German researchers about the link between politicians’ words and violence against journalists, The Washington Post’s Rick Noack sees parallels to the current state of discourse in the US.


Other notable stories

  • As Google considers officially re-entering China, and agreeing to the government’s dictate for wholesale censorship of topics such as human rights and democracy, CJR’s Mathew Ingram worries that “if the company accedes to the Chinese government’s demands, it will make it easier for others to do so, and will also embolden other totalitarian states to ask for their own custom censorship services from Google and other tech giants.”
  • After facing increased public pressure over the past week, Apple has removed nearly all Infowars podcasts from its platform, BuzzFeed reports. “Apple’s decision to remove all episodes of [Alex] Jones’ popular show—rather than just specific offending episodes—is one of the largest enforcement actions intended to curb conspiratorial news content by a technology company to date,” write John Paczkowski and Charlie Warzel.
  • The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan takes on the problems that come with the loss of local news reporters. “In our terribly divided nation, we need the local newspaper to give us common information—an agreed-upon set of facts to argue about,” she writes.
  • President Trump is succeeding at telling a story, and his enablers in the media are helping it sink in, argues CNN’s Brian Stelter. “He’s the hero, the savior, the dragon-slayer of his own story,” Stelter writes. “The villains include Democrats, foreigners and the journalists in the back of the hall.”
  • Shortly after Sarah Jeong was hired as the newest member of The New York Times’s editorial board, her past tweets became a point of controversy. For CJR, David Uberti writes that the divergent reactions of the Times and The Verge, her former employer, provide “a clear snapshot of arguably the largest fault line within journalism today: the one between journalists who have grown up on the internet, and the media organizations who haven’t.”
  • CNN reports that 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager will not return to work today as planned, but will remain “on vacation” as an investigation into allegations raised by a New Yorker article about workplace harassment at CBS continues.
  • Greg Miller, a longtime national security reporter for The Washington Post, has written a book on Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election in President Trump’s favor, and the continuing fallout of that effort. The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy, out October 2 from Custom House, draws on reporting by Miller and other Post reporters to tell a story that stretches from the initial hack of the DNC servers to Trump’s meeting with Putin last month.

ICYMI: Journalists ambushed in CAR during investigation of Russian mercenaries

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