With the nonstop breaking news this month about the impeachment inquiry revelations, the Syria debacle, and the Pelosi vs Trump meeting, one story that concerned me made it through only one news cycle.
The publicity about a video showing a fake Trump killing members of the media and his political rivals barely made a blip in the national media. The gruesome video was shown in a continuous loop during a pro-Trump conference at Trump’s golf resort in Doral. Trump was depicted shooting, punching and even setting one of his rivals on fire. The brutal scene was set in a “Fake News Church” with media logos being rapidly gunned down by Trump. One of the media logos Trump was shown murdering was TPM, which stands for Talking Points Memo, an on-line publication based in New York with an office in Washington, DC. My daughter, Tierney Sneed, is one of the reporters who works in the DC office. She is also a member of the White House Press Corps. As a former reporter, and now the mother of a journalist, seeing that video sent chills down my spine.
Since he was elected, Trump has constantly berated the press as “Fake News” and “Enemy of the People, “ two slogans used by dictators in the past. He recently claimed that the “Fake News” media was his primary opponent— even taking top billing over his Democratic opponents. In fact, Axios news recently reported that Trump supporters raised $2 million to be used to investigate reporters and editors of the Washington Post, New York Times and other publications. They reportedly want to expose political bias in the press. Tierney said she didn’t dwell much on the video or the investigations, but there also was talk of the Department of Justice wiretapping journalists’ phones, which she found worrisome.
Nixon had his “enemies lists” which included reporters covering the Watergate scandal. But Trump’s rants have brought the hatred of the press to a whole new level. The violent video brought criticism from both sides of the aisle—and even from Trump’s press secretary — but Trump did not personally condemn it.
Indeed, he has ramped up his attack on the press at his political rallies, increasing the name calling to the delight of his audience. Tierney’s fiancée, Jim Sewell, is a reporter for Slate magazine and has covered some of those rallies. He described how the press was placed in a pen and rally goers would come up to them, calling them scumbags, liars and worse. “The setup is pretty intimidating,” he said. “Trump encourages the booing. We are props in his show.”
I have written before that in the 70s and 80s, when I was a reporter for the Palm Beach Post and the Miami Herald, I certainly had run-ins with politicians and other officials who did not always like my stories. But there certainly was no name-calling—or violent videos—about the press. There was an understanding it was the reporter’s job to be the watchdog of government. Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the U.S Constitution, for goodness sake. So we wrote our stories fairly and truthfully, and everyone usually got along without tirades or taunts.
But this is a new era, with a president who is known for his lies, that are echoed over the Trump friendly media and internet. Facebook has made it clear that it will not be censoring false political rants, although it will try to stop propaganda from Russia and other bad foreign actors. The standards that once governed the press—that news was to be presented in a non-partisan truthful way—is no longer the norm. We now have alt-right websites that continue to publicize debunked conspiracy theories and a cable station that is dubbed Trump’s most watched “favorite.”
But I worry about the consequences that could result from that despicable video. Showing a mass shooting, coupled with an increasing hatred for the press, is not a good mix. Just ask the families of the five reporters and editors who were shot to death in the newsroom of the Capitol Gazette in Annapolis a little more than a year ago. The shooter was a man who thought the newspaper had wronged him.
It’s past time to tone down the rhetoric. But with this president I have little faith that he will back down from his contemptuous tirades. Just this week he called Republicans who did not support him “human scum.” At this point, all we can do is hope that this rancor will end when his term is over.