RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force today again called on President Trump and his supporters to tone down their vitriol targeting the First Amendment and, specifically, responsible journalists who are merely fulfilling their constitutionally-guaranteed obligation to seek and report the truth.
On Sunday, the President tweeted his latest attack on the Fourth Estate, going beyond his usual “fake news” and “enemy of the American people” slurs to claim that journalists have actually “cause[d] War.”
Add that to previous presidential allegations that responsible journalists are “disgusting” and “dishonest,” which he has used with increasing regularity during midterm election campaign rallies and elsewhere, and you see a clear pattern that a growing number of journalists fear could lead to Trump-inspired physical attacks on reporters and photojournalists.
NBC News correspondent and MSNBC host Katy Tur revealed that she recently received an email advocating that she be “raped and killed.”
A caller into one of C-SPAN’s programs threatened to shoot CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon.
After receiving a death threat from an anonymous caller, New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens wrote late last week that “Trump will have blood on his hands.”
In the last six weeks or so local journalists in Chicago, Detroit and El Cajon, California, have been attacked or threatened with physical violence just for doing their jobs. A disc jockey in Madison, Wisconsin, was shot and wounded by a masked man who broke into the radio station where he works.
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which RTDNA is a founding partner, at least 24 journalists have been physically attacked across the United States so far this year.
While the motives of those particular attackers cannot – at least yet – be directly tied to President Trump’s anti-news media rantings, one has to wonder whether the commander-in-chief’s bully pulpit has somehow made people ranging from law enforcement officers, to local elected officials, to some members of the fringe elements of society feel emboldened to lash out at members of the media in violent ways.
In an interview with Nexstar-owned KRON-TV, San Francisco, August 3, RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley warned that the president’s escalating verbal attacks on responsible journalism, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refusal to distance herself from those attacks in her capacity as the president’s official spokeswoman, could lead to lethal physical attacks on journalists.
“I honestly hate to say this, but I really believe that unless the vitriol is toned down from the president, his supporters and others, that this will not end before journalists and others, perhaps, are killed,” Shelley said.
That comment seemed to stun the KRON-TV anchors who interviewed Shelley, but he regretfully – and honestly – believes that it could be the ultimate outcome in today’s highly-charged atmosphere that too often targets journalists.
Until the rhetoric deescalates, and more civil discourse returns to presidential rallies and others’ mindsets, journalists must, as Shelley has often said, “watch your backs, but don’t back down.”
Another, and perhaps more important mantra of Shelley and others: “The only antidote to attacks on journalists is more and better journalism.”
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. Reach out to RTDNA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.