Attacks On Journalists Will Lead To Violence

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by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

 

It was Feb. 17, 2017, less than a month after President Donald Trump was sworn into office and had taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States that he began calling the nation’s press “the enemy of the people.”

In a Tweet he said, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

That Tweet was preceded by an extended blasting of journalists at a news conference Feb. 16, 2017. “The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people.” Both Republicans and Democrats immediately chastised Trump for his attacks.

 “When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press,” Republican Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain said to Meet the Press host Chuck Todd Feb. 19, 2017. “And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”

Brutal dictators of the past, Russia’s Stalin, Germany’s Hitler, and Venezuela’s Chavez have called the press the enemy of the people. Today’s thugs and strongmen use similar words - Syria’s President Bashar Assad and the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte – as they kill thousands of their own citizens.

McCain doesn’t always like the press. Still, he said,  “If you want to preserve - I’m very serious now - if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press.”

Despite criticism and words of caution, Trump’s assault on the press hasn’t eased. If anything, it is ramping up creating an atmosphere of hate, anger and potential violence against reporters.

At a rally in Pennsylvania, Aug. 2, he singled out the men and women of the press. Pointing his finger at the television and newspaper reporters covering the event he called their organizations the “fake, fake, disgusting news” and called the reporters “horrible, horrendous people.” His animosity incites his crowds to turn on the press with angry words, profane gestures and threats of harm.

Earlier the same day, the United Nations released a statement saying, “We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.”

It went on to say his attacks were “strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts. These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law.”

Worries about violence are genuine. “I hope you get raped and killed,” MSNBC’s Katy Tur said a person wrote to her. “Raped and killed. Not just me, but a couple of my female colleagues as well.”

This past April Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that looks out for the safety and interests of journalists, dropped America’s ranking based on Trump’s incessant attacks.

How often is Trump attacking the press by calling it “fake news” or an “enemy of the people”? It is approaching 300 times since his inauguration Jan. 20, 2017 – that is nearly every other day. In doing so, his intent is clear – destroy the credibility of America’s independent press; sow doubt; corrupt faith in the truth tellers. In doing so, stories of infidelities, potential Russian interference in the 2016 election, and his chaotic national and international policies are dismissed as “fake news.”

The rising danger Trump’s words pose to reporters have some members of Congress proposing laws to protect them.

 “President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration have created a toxic atmosphere,” California U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell said in February as he introduced the Journalist Protection Act. “It’s not just about labeling reports of his constant falsehoods as #FakeNews – it’s his casting of media personalities and outlets as anti-American targets, and encouraging people to engage in violence.”

In a floor speech earlier this year, Arizona Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake addressed Trump’s continued slurs against the nation’s press.

“Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.”

“… And, of course, the president has it precisely backward - despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy.”

We live in a less civil society today with people viciously attacking each other through social media and in the online comment sections of news organizations.

We live in a time when people can’t tell real news from fake news on the internet. They are easily misled, fooled by Russians posting information that incites hatreds and inflames passions in efforts to affect our elections. We live in a “post-truth” world where facts that challenge our beliefs are dismissed.

We also live in a time when a trusted press is essential to ensuring an informed electorate has the honest reporting it needs to make decisions in the voting booth.

“When you work at The Wall Street Journal, the coins of the realm are truth and trust — the latter flowing exclusively from the former. When you read a story in the Journal, you do so with the assurance that immense reportorial and editorial effort has been expended to ensure that what you read is factual,” former Journal columnist Bret Stephens wrote in response to Trump’s attacks.

“Not probably factual. Not partially factual. Not alternatively factual. I mean fundamentally, comprehensively and exclusively factual. And therefore trustworthy.” Stephens now writes for The New York Times.

That very same rigor applies to news organizations large and small across the nation. We strive to do our best, often with limited resources, to inform our readers with accurate, unbiased information. We shouldn’t have to fear for the lives of journalists doing their jobs – not in America!

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