EDITORIAL: Media again in GOP crosshairs

York Dispatch Editorial Board
FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during the Young Black Leadership Summit at the White House in Washington. On Monday, Oct. 7 Judge Victor Marrero rejected Trump’s challenge to the release of his tax returns for a New York state criminal probe. The returns had been sought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. His office is investigating the Trump Organization’s involvement in buying the silence of two women who claimed to have had affairs with the president. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

As the inevitability of impeachment closes in on President Donald Trump, he has responded predictably: Holding campaign rallies at which he can feed his ever-famished ego while railing inaccurately and unaccountably against his perceived critics.

Chief among these, as ever, is America’s free press.

The president’s continuing insistence that any story unfavorable to his reputation — or, indeed, counter to his particular view of the world — is fake news is, by now, old news.

But his demonizing of journalists as “enemies of the people” continues to incite public vitriol, which has been on display of late in increasingly troubling ways.

Just look under Trump’s very roof.

“A video depicting a macabre scene of a fake President Trump shooting, stabbing and brutally assaulting members of the news media and his political opponents was shown at a conference for his supporters at his Miami resort last week,” reported the New York Times on Sunday.

The display was part of a series of internet memes shown during a conference by the pro-Trump group American Priority at the Trump National Doral in Miami. It depicted the president’s image superimposed over a person opening fire inside a “Church of Fake News.” The victims are depicted with likenesses of politicians and celebrities, or news-organization logos.

This wasn’t just some tiny band of Trump lovers snickering on the sidelines. Aside from affording Trump’s pricey digs, the American Priority conference attracted such speakers as Donald Trump Jr. and former White House communications director Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Neither said they viewed or were even aware of the video.)

The video resembled one Trump himself shared on Twitter in 2017: doctored footage of Trump in his pro-wrestling promotion days, beating up a foe representing CNN. But the new images are far more graphic.

Among those depicted as being brutally attacked or killed in the video: Rep. Maxine Waters, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Mitt Romney, former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, entertainers Rosie O’Donnell and Kathy Griffin, the late Sen. John McCain and many others. The assailant shoots a victim with “Black Lives Matter” superimposed over her face.

The incredibly violent depictions show how emboldened far-right critics have become and — particularly at a time when mass shootings are epidemic — should have been immediately disavowed by the White House.

Condemnation wasn’t immediate, but it did come on Monday in the form of a White House statement saying the president “has not yet seen the video … but based upon everything he has heard, he strongly condemns (it).”

That’s a relief, because even unspoken countenance of threats against the media is not without societal echoes. They can be seen and heard on the answering machines of newsroom telephones, in the comments sections of online stories — even on the backs of the hateful.

On the same weekend American Patriot conference attendees were yucking it up at depictions of a “presidential” killing spree, a passenger boarded a United Airlines flight in Boston wearing a T-shirt that read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.”

Free speech? Yes. Threatening speech? Another passenger thought so — and raised objections. Airline officials offered to switch the concerned passenger’s flight but did not restrict the passenger wearing the offending shirt.

Before arguing that the media are thin-skinned or can’t take a joke, replace the word “journalist” on that T-shirt and consider the likely reaction: “Priest”? “Police officer”? “Conservative”? The offensiveness is patent. But when it targets the media, it goes largely unremarked upon — too often even by the president.

While his rejection of this grievous video is welcome, it hardly diminishes the president’s long-standing campaign of condemnation.

Presidential demonizing of the media is inaccurate, dangerous and, frankly, beneath the office. It dismisses the constitutionally protected role of the press and contributes to unfounded public distrust of reporting. It degrades public discourse and incites those who would commit violence.

If the president truly condemns violence and threats against the media, he must speak out against more than one graphic depiction. More importantly, he must set a much better example himself.