While there is no evidence that the cold-blooded murderer who killed five journalists with a shotgun at Maryland’s Capital Gazette newspaper last week was influenced by Donald Trump’s contempt for the free press, there is little doubt that the president’s vitriol has put the security of journalists, and the institution of free speech, at risk.
“The FAKE NEWS media (failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” – Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, via Twitter, February 2017.
“I would never kill them (journalists), but I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people. It’s true.” – Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, December 2015.
“I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.” – Candidate Trump to 13-time Emmy award-winning journalist Leslie Stahl in a Trump Tower conversation, July 2016.
“We need to go after the reporters. They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.” – President Trump to FBI Director James Comey in a conversation about White House leaks, February 2017.
Branding journalists as the enemy, openly admitting his unabashed hatred of them, confiding that he willfully demeans them in order to discredit them, and threatening to imprison them for refusing to reveal their sources are blatant attacks on journalists and on the First Amendment itself.
In the wake of last week’s newsroom slaughter, Trump said, “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.” The important word in this quote is “violently.” The implied meaning, of course, is that it is perfectly acceptable to verbally attack journalists for doing their job, just as the president does.
Trump supporters have grown fond of booing and harassing reporters covering the president’s rallies. I recently watched a video clip of a man shouting “You are a traitor! I am a patriot!” to reporters who were quietly doing their job in a cordoned-off area at the back of an arena during one of Trump’s campaign stops.
For all the energy the far-right devotes to defending the Second Amendment right to bear arms, it seems that relatively few of those “Constitutionalists” are concerned about defending the First Amendment guarantee of a free press.
Is President Trump to blame for the deaths of those five journalists? Did he pull the trigger? Did he tell the shooter to go out and kill reporters for writing the truth? No.
Has the president embarked upon a campaign to dehumanize and vilify reporters? Has he joked about their deaths at campaign rallies? Has he discussed incarcerating them with the director of the FBI? Yes.
The president has repeatedly referred to the press (all but conservative outlets Fox News and Breitbart) as “the enemy of the American people.” The Nazis were once the enemy of the American people. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS are all enemies of the American people. And now American journalists are included on that list.
I am a member of the free press. Am I also an enemy of the American people?
The Capital Gazette shooter had a grudge against a media outlet that had reported a factually accurate story about his conviction for harassing a woman. He unsuccessfully sued the paper for defamation. He made threats against the reporters and joked about their deaths. His Twitter account was devoted to vilifying the Gazette and the journalists who dared to write about his misdeeds.
Sound like anyone else you know?
No, Donald J. Trump is not directly responsible for the deaths of those five journalists. Yes, he is responsible for his concerted effort to turn the American people against the free press and, by extension, against one another. It is the duty of every journalist and every American to resist this deliberate attempt to tear us apart.
Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Those brave souls at the Capital Gazette went to work every day in search of the truth. They knew reporting that truth could put their lives in jeopardy, and they did it anyway. Were they the enemies of the American people? Were they traitors?
No, they were not.
They were journalists.
They were patriots.
And I am proud to count myself as one of them.