Two things seem ever-more certain as Donald Trump's presidency continues: First, Trump's anti-media rhetoric is going to get a journalist killed, or at least badly injured. Second, Trump doesn't care.
We're long past the point of debating whether to take Trump's antagonizing rhetoric about the media seriously or literally. After a year of "enemy of the people" talk, and in a week in which the world outside the Oval Office mourned a journalist murdered by an evil, oppressive regime, Trump decided on Thursday that the best way to appeal to his supporters at a Montana rally was to praise a congressman best known for assaulting a reporter.
"Any guy who can do a body-slam, he's my guy," Trump said of Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), who pleaded guilty in June 2017 to doing just that to a journalist from The Guardian. The journalist's offense? Trying to ask a question of Gianforte, then a candidate.
Trump continued: "I had heard that he body-slammed a reporter. And he was way up ... I said, 'Oh this is terrible, he's gonna lose. Then I said, 'Wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him.' And it did."
President Trump praising Rep. Greg Gianforte for body slamming a reporter, a crime for which Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. pic.twitter.com/DS1z3YBE0C
— Axios (@axios) October 19, 2018
How did Trump's audience respond to his celebration of violence?
Journalists will be the ones to scream loudest about Trump's latest comments, and maybe that's the point: By baiting the media, Trump invites the kind of criticism that lets him turn to his supporters and say, "The media is so unfair. See how much they attack me? They're attacking you, the deplorables, when they do that."
It's time for journalists to push back. They aren't just defending a free press, or the right to criticize those in power. It's clear they must also defend their very lives and safety.
The last two years have been an accumulating series of emergencies — lies stacked upon lies, obvious corruption, probable obstruction of justice, and the all-around abuse of powers — and yet it has often seemed like America is holding its breath, waiting for the moment when it's apparent the president has gone too far, when he's finally crossed the line that can't be crossed without doing serious damage to the nation. We keep asking ourselves: Is this the Saturday Night Massacre? Is this the Saturday Night Massacre? That such a moment would come has seemed almost certain.
At some point, we have to realize that line was crossed long ago, crossed so brazenly that we almost didn't notice. The emergency is here; it is with us every day. There's no more avoiding, or looking away, or using the Paul Ryan excuse of pretending we haven't heard the latest outrage.
In free, democratic countries where rights are carefully observed, government officials do not threaten journalists. They don't wink at the violence. They don't celebrate it. And they certainly don't make excuses, as Trump and his allies seem wont to do, when another regime murders its own critics in the media. At the same time Trump was re-enacting Gianforte's body-slam on Thursday, The Washington Post reported that "hardline Republicans and conservative commentators" were mounting a smear campaign against journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian dissident apparently murdered by Saudi officials at the Turkish consulate two weeks ago.
This is a president, a regime, that chooses to muddy the name of a dead journalist while glorifying violence against another. This is wrong. This should be shocking. Nothing can justify it.
Late Thursday night, The Guardian — whose reporter was assaulted by Gianforte in the incident praised by Trump — issued a statement in response to the rally comments: "To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it," said Guardian U.S. editor John Mulholland. "In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them."
Decent people will denounce. The president won't. Let there be no doubt: The emergency has arrived.