At a campaign rally Thursday for Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, President Donald Trump praised the Republican lawmaker for body-slamming a newspaper reporter in May 2017. ...
Please understand that they aren’t promoting any party or candidate. They aren’t pushing a particular political point of view. They just want to know what you, the voters, are thinking.
They are certainly not the enemy.
We were appalled by what the president said at the Gianforte rally last week. Trump called Gianforte a “tough cookie” and “my kind of guy,” and joked that his assault of a reporter probably helped him win favor among Montana voters.
This seemed particularly cavalier, particularly awful and ill-advised, in the wake of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by 15 people believed to be Saudi agents.
The president initially seemed reluctant to accept that the Saudis were behind the torture and assassination of Khashoggi. But Monday, Trump told the press that after talking to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi’s disappearance, he was “not satisfied with what I’ve heard.”
It was progress, of a sort.
But joking about an assault on a reporter? That was a terrible and needless fall backward — and completely unacceptable.
“This amounts to the celebration of a crime by someone sworn to uphold our laws and an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has solemnly pledged to defend it,” Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said in a statement. “We should never shrug at the president cheerleading for a violent act targeting a free and independent news media.”
Republican pollster Frank Luntz tweeted his disapproval of Trump’s remarks: “Kinda dilutes the ‘angry mob’ characterization of your political opponents when you praise unprovoked violence (to which Rep. Gianforte pleaded guilty) against a journalist who was doing his job.”
Luntz is right, of course. But beyond any political calculation, we fear this kind of rhetoric might lead to more journalists getting hurt.
Just last June, five staff members of the Capital Gazette, a local newspaper group in Annapolis, Maryland, were fatally shot by a gunman who had a grudge against that newspaper.
They were among the 64 journalists who have been killed around the world this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Some people are consumed by anger already; they don’t need any encouragement to turn their anger into violence.
Last week, a bumper sticker was photographed on a Brooklyn vehicle and shared on Twitter. The wording, set against the backdrop of an American flag, read: “Fight for the truth. Punch a journalist.”
Last year, Walmart pulled T-shirts from its website bearing the message: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.”
Both items naturally drew outrage. But someone thought the sentiments needed to be mass-produced.
When unfavorable news reporting is derided as “fake,” when journalists are accused of treason — there are bumper stickers conveying that feeling, too — it’s not just journalists who should worry.