Fake. Disgusting. Failing. The enemy. Those are just a few words President Donald Trump has called media organizations, particularly the ones he doesn’t like. Trump has been spouting his anti-press comments since his presidential campaign, but now that he holds one of the most powerful offices in the world, his careless words are creating a dangerous echo chamber among his supporters. In fact, it’s become so hostile that a group of Democratic senators has introduced a resolution urging Trump to respect the rights of the press.
“Punishing reporters for simply doing their job is a strongman tactic that cannot be tolerated in a free democracy. President Trump may not like tough questions, but that’s simply too bad,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in a statement.
In July, while covering a Trump rally in Tampa, Fla., CNN’s Jim Acosta shared a 45-second video clip from the rally on Twitter (it currently has more than 4 million views). In the clip, Trump supporters are heard shouting “Stop lying!” and “You suck!” while waving their middle fingers and giving Acosta a thumbs down. One man even lifts up the front of his T-shirt that says “F*ck the Media.”
“Just a sample of the sad scene we faced at the Trump rally in Tampa,” Acosta wrote. “I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy.”
Yet for thousands of people, the press is the enemy. A recent Ipsos poll showed almost a third of the American people agreed that the news media is the enemy. This “growing animosity towards journalists” will continue, according to the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion,” said the report. “The United States, the country of the First Amendment, has fallen again in the Index under Donald Trump, this time two places to 45th. A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters ‘enemies of the people,’ the term once used by Joseph Stalin.”
Being harassed and targeted is nothing new to journalists, but in the wake of the Capital Gazette shooting, threats are being taken more seriously now, and news outlets are doing more to secure the safety of their journalists. For example, journalists are now using security guards and bodyguards when covering Trump rallies, according to Politico.
Realistically, the demonization of the press will not go away anytime soon. But newsrooms are pushing back.
Last month, more than 300 newspapers published editorials in response to Trump’s attacks on the media, calling for “the dirty war on the free press” to end. And during a recent meeting with Trump, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger said he told the president “directly that (he) thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.”
“I told him that although the phrase ‘fake news’ is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists ‘the enemy of the people.’ I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence,” said Sulzberger. “…I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.”
This kind of truth is what we need to speak in order to triumph over our adversaries.
Even when he was being booed and insulted, Acosta didn’t stop doing his job. He knew it was his duty to report because he believes—and we should all believe—“the press is not the enemy.”