Trump’s Attacks On The Media Come Home To Roost
It was only a matter of time before Trump's rhetoric against the press would lead to something violent. Last night in El Paso, it happened.
Yesterday, the animus toward the press that has been a frequent subject of Donald Trump’s campaign rallies and tweets took a new and violent turn:
A supporter of President Trump attacked a BBC camera operator during a presidential rally in El Paso on Monday night, the broadcaster said.
“BBC cameraman Ron Skeans was violently pushed and shoved by a member of the crowd while covering a President Trump rally in Texas last night,” a BBC spokesman said in an email on Tuesday.
Mr. Trump was in El Paso to increase support for his proposed wall on the United States border with Mexico, in his most significant rally since his funding demands for the project temporarily shut down the government. The president was talking about a decline in attacks on African, Hispanic, and Asian-Americans when the cameraman was pushed.
A 36-second clip from Mr. Skeans’s camera before, during and after the shove was widely circulated on social media on Tuesday. It shows a protester in a red Make America Great Again cap, who has not been publicly identified, shouting at members of the media as he is restrained by someone who appears to be part of the event’s security team.
As the man struggles, the crowd’s chant shifts from “U.S.A.” to “Let him go.”
Gary O’Donoghue, the BBC Washington correspondent who covered the El Paso rally on Monday, said the supporter had “tried to smash” the camera before security escorted him out of the venue.
The BBC condemned the attack. “It is clearly unacceptable for any of our staff to be attacked for doing their job,” the statement on Tuesday said. The president could see what was happening and checked “that all was O.K.,” the statement added.
Since the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Trump has had a strained relationship with the news media. He has repeatedly called journalists “the enemy of the people,” and he used the term “Fake News” on Twitter at least 174 times last year alone.
In August, experts from the United Nations and a human rights body condemned the president’s attacks on the news media and warned that they could incite violence against journalists.
“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression, and Edison Lanza, who holds the same position at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said in a statement.
Here’s the video showing the moment of the attack, although at the time the camera as of course focused on the President:
Just attended my first @realDonaldTrump rally where my colleague BBC cameraman Rob Skeans was attacked by a Trump supporter. The crowd had been whipped up into a frenzy against the media by Trump and other speakers all night #TrumpElPaso pic.twitter.com/Oiw8osPms3
— Eleanor Montague (@EleanorMontague) February 12, 2019
And an update from the BBC’s Washington correspondent, who was in El Paso covering the rally:
Security now removed Trump crowd member who pushed and shoved my cameraman – having jumped onto the Media platform here in El Paso – pretestor tried to smash our camera – follows multiple attacks on the media by the President and previous speakers – it's shameful
— Gary O'Donoghue (@BBCBlindGazza) February 12, 2019
While the only person truly culpable for this attack is the person who attacked the cameraman, the context in which this happened cannot be ignored, and that context has been established by the President of the United States himself. From the earliest days of his campaign, Trump used his speeches to attack the reporters who were covering the campaign and the news networks that were airing his speeches. More than once he would make the false claim that networks such as CNN had turned off their cameras and were not airing the speech even as it was being aired live on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel at the same time. He often repeatedly referred to the media in general and specific reporters in derogatory ways, accused them of hating America, and encouraged the crowd to turn on the reporters and camera crews that were covering the speech. On more than one occasion, this was followed by the pro-Trump crowd shouting vile epithets and threats at individual reporters to the point that they would need to be escorted out of the venue by local law enforcement or a member of the Secret Service for their own safety. During the campaign, Trump banned reporters from two publications, The Des Moines Register and The Washington Post, from receiving press passes to cover events and speeches and then go on to accuse them of trying to censor his message to the voters because they weren’t there to cover it. On another occasion, he had Univision anchor Jorge Ramos physically removed from a press conference when he asked a question about Trump’s position on immigration. Later during the campaign, Trump suggested that the nation strengthen its libel laws in ways that would clearly violate the First Amendment. This rhetoric continued throughout Trump’s campaign right up until Election Day in 2016.
After taking office, Trump’s attacks on the media continued and took on a more sinister tone considering the fact that he was at that point President of the United States. Less than a month after taking office, for example, Trump called the news media the “enemy of the people” for the first time, a phrase he returned to several times over the past year. Over the summer, one of his close advisers suggested that the media should be criminally charged for publishing leaked information even when that information isn’t classified. During a campaign rally style speech in Arizona in August, Trump upped his rhetoric by referring to members of the media as “sick people” who “don’t like our country,” and are “trying to take away our history and our heritage.” In October, he took to Twitter to threaten NBC with unspecified government action including pulling their broadcast license notwithstanding the fact that broadcast licenses are issued to individual stations, not networks, and that the FCC has no similar licensing requirement for cable networks such as MSNBC. Most recently, the President directed his private attorneys to send a “cease and desist” letter to the author and publisher of a book critical of the Trump White House and once again brought up the possibility of strengthening the nation’s libel laws in response to the negative coverage his Administration was receiving.
To a large degree, this Trumpidian rhetoric feeds into general conservative attitudes about the media, of course. The idea of a “biased media” that either ignores or drowns out conservative ideas has been an article of faith on the right for so long that it has virtually become a required belief on the right. To some extent, of course, there were biases in the media in the days when television news was largely limited to three networks and the news cycle was dominated by those networks and by papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. To a large extent, though, it seems obvious in retrospect that those biases were based on geography and culture much more than they were on a conscious political agenda. In any case, though, the rise of cable news and the Internet has largely done away with that media monopoly and the idea that the “media” is biased against conservatives in an era where there are multiple news outlets online and where the top-rated news channel is one that is clearly biased toward the current Administration is simply absurd. In any case, Trump took that general conservative tendency to distrust the media and ran with it, but in doing so he appears to have unleashed a monster. The President has spent three years now riling up crowds with attacks on the news media. While he is not directly responsible for what happened last night, his rhetoric certainly has not helped.
Update: The El Paso District Attorney is saying that he will not bring charges against the attacker:
The El Paso District Attorney’s office will not press charges against the belligerent Trump supporter who apparently shoved several news crews and “violently pushed” a BBC cameraman during the president’s Monday evening rally near the border.
In video captured of the incident, the screaming Trump supporter, wearing a red Make America Great Again hat, purportedly shoved BBC cameraman Ron Skeans off-balance before being restrained and removed by security, while screaming “Fuck the media.”
“We are looking into the situation and the released video of the incident but we are not pressing charges at this time,” District Attorney Jaime Esparza told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “If there are any changes to our course of action, we will inform the public.”
This is outrageous. Hopefully, the D.A. will reconsider.