Massacre at Newspaper a Result of Trump’s Words
By Arturo Castañares / La Prensa San Diego Publisher and CEO
Thursday’s shooting rampage at Maryland’s Capital Gazette newspaper left five people dead and the world of journalism in fear of continuing to do its job of reporting the news of the day in today’s America.
A disgruntled man that had unsuccessfully sued the paper for libel in 2012 walked into the newspaper’s offices with a shotgun and began shooting employees, finally surrendering to police when confronted.
Although no one is sure yet of the killer’s true motives, journalists everywhere feared something like this would happen in our current political environment where the President nearly daily criticizes the media as purveyors of fake, misleading, and flat-out slanderous news he’s labeled as “fake”’simply because he disagrees with their stories.
From the very first press briefing held by the Trump White House in January 2017, then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer aggressively confronted the media like adversaries, that day repeatedly making the obviously false claim that the crowd for Trump’s Inauguration was the largest ever. Period.
Spicer’s confrontational style was so bombastic and rude that Saturday Night Live famously spoofed him with comedian Melissa McCarthy playing an over-the-top version of the real press secretary’s dismissive interactions with White House correspondents.
Trump’s early morning tweets have often called out media outlets he detests, especially CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Trump calls them “fake news” for reporting the everyday happenings in politics in ways that are not flattering to the mercurial president.
Two days after his summit with the North Korean dictator earlier this month, Trump proclaimed the greatest threat to our country is fake news. Not the nuclear missiles still held by the unpredictable Kim Jong-un, not terrorists, not even Russian hackers that meddled in our elections.
No. The press. But not all the press, it seems.
Trump personally tweets glowingly about the news coverage from Fox News, and even promotes their upcoming shows with anchors he likes, and sometimes even tweets policy changes based on Fox News broadcasts that have just aired. Completely biased (admittedly so) hosts like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham are fine, in the world according to Trump.
And just like he did during his presidential campaign in 2016, Trump continues to attack the mainstream media at every rally he attends, usually wrongly decrying that the media will misquote him, not show the rally, or in some way spin his message, even as CNN carries the event live.
As we’ve seen in other aspects of Trump’s messaging, his followers adopt his rhetoric and share his views in ways that very few politicians we’ve ever seen.
This week, during a campaign rally in South Carolina for the Republican governor’s re-election, the crowd turned against CNN’s Jim Acosta, a constant presence at the White House briefings who often spars with current Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
People in the crowd chanted “Go home Jim” and called the well-known reporter “Fake News Jim.” One person held up a huge cardboard sign live on TV that read “CNN SUCKS”.
Granted, some news outlets have made mistakes, gotten stories wrong, and a few have even made stories up from whole cloth, but to dismiss serious professional journalists from credible outlets as a whole is against what our country stands for.
From the inception of what would later become the United States, probing and critical journalists have helped shape the outcome of this country.
Benjamin Franklin, who wrote letters in his brother’s newspaper that strongly criticized England’s tyrannical rule over the colonists, signed them under the pen name Silence Dogood, a fictional widow.
Some of Franklin’s Dogood letters upset the English Colonial Assembly so much that his brother James was jailed for months for refusing to identify the author of the letters.
Franklin would, of course, go on to print his own newspaper and humbly signed his opinion letters “B. Franklin, Printer.”
His letters would lay the foundation for the revolt that ultimately led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the founding of this great country we all call home.
Since Franklin’s time, newspapers, radio, TV, and now all forms of digital media have continued the important work of not only criticizing, but challenging our leaders.
A free press is so ingrained in our political DNA that it is enshrined in the First Amendment, along with our individual freedoms of speech and religion.
The First Amendment protects the press from government censorship and control, but that’s only from official laws or actions of the government that would seek to limit or control the press.
What Trump is doing is far more dangerous.
Instead, Trump has set out to discredit the media, and make anything journalists say questionable in the minds of the general public. He has sown distrust in the media and has made everyday citizens suspicious of any story, especially ones that disagree with his views.
Now, Trump has debased journalists so much that average Americans are openly cynical of the news media in a way never before seen in our country.
It was focused investigative reporting that discovered and exposed the Watergate scandal. In that case, when a sitting president said the stories were fake news, an informed public, and, later Congress, found out the truth only through the diligent work of tireless reporting.
Since Nixon’s resignation, dozens of other politicians from both parties have been exposed for wrongdoing, from Reagan’s Iran-Contra affair, to Senator Gary Hart’s actual affair, John Edwards’ love child, and Governor Sanford’s illicit trip to Argentina.
In each case, it was news reporting that ultimately surfaced hidden secrets that voters rightfully should have known.
In the nearly 300 years since Benjamin Franklin first used the power of the pen to check government’s power over its citizens, the press has continued to question, prod, and provoke our leaders to ensure a more transparent and accountable government.
In Trump’s world, that kind of examination of him, his administration, and his actions is a direct threat to his political and economic survival.
In his form of zero-sum politics, the press is the enemy. And in only 18 months in office, one of his most successful campaigns has been pitting Americans against the media.
We may not always agree with all news reports, but there is no denying that, as a whole, journalists try to get unvarnished facts out to the public.
Even biased political commentators, bloggers, and tweeters are not the enemy. No reporter should be harassed, threatened, or, as happened this week, murdered.
Reporters have been killed in war zones, by drug cartels, and even by terrorists. But this week, it was a fellow American that assassinated five journalists.
A misinformed public is a far greater danger to the long-term survival of our democracy than any “fake” news reports.
It’s our job as Americans, and more importantly as voters, to find out what’s really going on from whatever reliable sources we can find. And always, always ask questions. It’s our civic duty.
We must continue to speak truth to power.
A. Castañares, Printer.
- PUBLISHED THURSDAY, JUNE 28 AT 7:47 P.M.