Though the shooter's actions and motive cannot be blamed on anyone but himself, it's hard to ignore the giant elephant in the room: that journalists in America are facing almost unprecedented levels of hostility, especially from the president himself. As recently as June 17, Trump called the news media the "enemy of the people" on Twitter; it's a title he ascribed to journalists and news outlets early on in his presidency.
S0 the irony is not lost on me — or any journalist for that matter — that Trump on Friday said, "Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job."
Can you not, Mr. President? It takes five journalists getting murdered in their place of work for you to finally start talking about us as if we are people? This is the same president who has openly encouraged the assault of people who do not agree with him or his supporters at his rallies, offering to pay the legal fees of anyone arrested. Trump's rhetoric against journalists has already escalated into real violence at his rallies: Last year a reporter and photographer say they were assaulted by Trump supporters at his rally in Huntington Beach, CA.
Earlier this month, CNN reporter Jim Acosta was taunted with chants of "Go home Jim!" at a Trump rally in South Carolina; someone can be seen holding up a "CNN Sucks" sign in the background.
This week, the president himself tweeted a not-so-veiled threat at Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who is a staunch critic of his.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the Face of the Democrat Party. She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2018
One of his most visible supporters, right-wing windbag, and sentient Pepe the Frog meme Milo Yiannopoulos told several reporters earlier this week he "can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists." It didn't take long.
As Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists told the Columbia Journalism Review last year, “When [Trump] belittles, attacks, and undermines journalists, that creates a new norm that has global repercussions as well as local ones. His rhetoric normalizes press freedom abuses at the state and local levels.”
With Trump's blessing, it has become mainstream to label anything critical of him and his administration as "fake news"; it has become common place for journalists to regularly receive threats and abuse in their inboxes. Disagreeing with journalists and holding us accountable when we get facts wrong is one thing. To threaten and disparaged us for reporting on facts you may not like is another. Slowly, the right to an open and free press is being eroded and we can't ignore Trump's role in that.
It is not some farfetched reality that America could become a place where journalists are routinely targeted for violence; Mexico, our very close neighbors to the south, has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters. According to the World Press Freedom Index, Trump's bombast against the media has had an effect broader than just the U.S.
“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,” Reporters Without Borders said of Trump's vitriol towards the press, according to HuffPost.
If we continue to normalize hostility to journalists and label news we don't agree with as fake, where will the line be drawn?
Mr. President, words, as I'm sure you're aware of, have meaning. They also have consequences. Choose them wisely.