Trump’s Praise Of Violence Against Reporters Should Concern Every American

While the world grieved the apparent death of Jamal Khashoggi, Trump praised GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte’s criminal assault of journalist Ben Jacobs.
Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the James L. Knight Center, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the James L. Knight Center, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Last night, at Trump’s Montana rally, the president applauded Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte for body-slamming The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last year. Gianforte had assaulted Jacobs when the journalist asked a question about Republicans’ healthcare policy.

CNN reporter Jim Acosta was at the Montana rally. He tweeted:

Washington Post National Correspondent Philip Bump tweeted:

The Guardian reported last year that Jacobs “was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly ‘body-slammed’ the reporter.” Ben Jacobs tweeted about the attack.

His campaign initially lied about it, but Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault and pled guilty.

Evidence of Trump’s verbal assault on the free press — and its dire consequences — is mounting.


Trump defended Saudi Arabia in their apparent murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, saying “rogue killers” might be to blame. Trump’s Republican enablers have reportedly launched a “whisper campaign,” smearing Khashoggi in defense of Trump.

In June, five people were shot and killed at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. The New York Times reported, “‘This was a targeted attack on the Capital Gazette,’ said William Krampf, acting chief of the Anne Arundel County Police Department. ‘This person was prepared to shoot people. His intent was to cause harm.’” Though the attack was motivated by personal vendetta, the shooter may arguably have been emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric.

In August, the FBI arrested a man who made threats of violence against the Boston Globe. ABC News reported, “In threatening calls to the Globe newsroom, Chain — according to the federal complaint — allegedly referred to the newspaper’s employees as the ‘enemy of the people.’”

Trump’s praise of Gianforte’s attack on Jacobs mustn’t be minimized or dismissed as a “joke,” as some news headlines suggest. Assault is never funny, and Trump’s violent rhetoric has very real repercussions. “His words matter, they have real consequences,” as Harvard professor Daniel Ziblatt said in an interview yesterday on KPFA-FM, about his book, How Democracies Die.

[Related: I wrote in August for Rantt Media, “President Trump again recklessly dubbed the media ‘enemy of the people.’”]

By calling journalists the “enemy of the people,” Trump is tearing a page out of authoritarian dictators’ playbook. The phrase was notably used by totalitarian rulers, including Stalin and Mao.

In July of last year, Trump tweeted a mocked-up video of himself in a WWE fight. The video shows him assaulting someone who has a CNN logo for a face, while the crowd cheers. The video has been viewed more than 38 million times.

Last night, Guardian U.S. Editor John Mulholland issued a statement, calling for Trump’s apology. He wrote, “We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the President will see fit to apologize for them.”

Trump offered anything but an apology. Last night, after he riled his rally mob with praise of Gianforte’s assault, he tweeted: “#JobsNotMobs!” Trump and his propaganda partners at Fox News have been pushing a narrative, accusing Democrats of incivility and mob mentality. Yesterday’s Fox News opinion headline: “Democrats waging an uncivil war of mob rule against the GOP.”

This morning, Olivier Knox, President of the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) released this statement in a tweet:

On Tuesday, PEN America, a literary and human rights organization, filed a lawsuit against Trump in federal court in Manhattan. The group alleges that “official acts” by Trump have “violated the First Amendment and his oath to uphold the Constitution.” This morning, PEN America released this statement, calling Trump’s praise of Gianforte’s assault a “startling new low.”

Of secondary focus, but not to be overlooked: Gianforte lashed out violently when Jacobs asked a question about Republicans’ healthcare policy. Trump and Republicans have no answers for healthcare, so when not committing assault or inciting violence, they lie.

If media outlets are to denounce Trump for his violent rhetoric toward journalists, then editors must also take responsibility for disseminating Trump’s lies.

Just 17 days before midterm elections, Donald Trump’s op-ed in USA TODAY slandering Democrats and Medicare-for-All stands without a disclaimer about falsehoods it contains — as subsequently found by USA TODAY’s fact check partner,

[RELATED: Last week, for Rantt Media, I interviewed professors from Harvard Business School, Columbia Business School, and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business about Trump’s op-ed.]

Typically, a debunked opinion piece would just fade into yesterday’s news. But the president’s false op-ed is continuously propagating on the internet — and many voters will be misinformed by his lies when they vote on November 6th.

Medicare-for-All is a hot-button election issue. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) tweeted:

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) staked the midterms on Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid — he blamed the deficit caused by the Republican tax cut on “entitlement programs.”

After Trump’s op-ed was published last Wednesday, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler wrote, “almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or a falsehood.”

Though opinion pieces are often exempt from the same rigors of fact-checking applied to news stories, USA TODAY NETWORK Principles of Ethical Conduct For Newsrooms, says:

“We will hold factual information in editorials and other opinion pieces to the same standards of accuracy as news stories.”

In response to the outcry, USA TODAY posted editorial page editor Bill Sternberg’s Editor’s Note on Trump’s op-ed last Wednesday, saying the paper granted Trump “wide leeway.” But last Friday, the newspaper apparently deleted the editor’s note.

Christina Bellantoni, Professor of Professional Practice, Director of the Annenberg School for Journalism Media Center at USC, told me, “They removed the editor’s note? Well, that’s weird.”

Although Sternberg’s editor’s note disappeared from Trump’s op-ed, USA TODAY Standards Editor Manny Garcia incorporated the statement into his column.

Garcia characterized public excoriation of the newspaper as “democracy in action.” He wrote that the paper gave “both sides” the opportunity to speak out. He added that editors thought they “served the public interest by giving readers an early look into Republican strategy going into the midterms.”

Garcia wrote about the newspaper’s “analysis,” but he did not mention that the analysis found false claims. A link to Garcia’s column now appears in Trump’s op-ed, along with this link:

Why does USA TODAY say has “looked into statements,” rather than the more precise truth — has found false claims made in the column? has looked into statements made in this column.

Why does USA TODAY say has “looked into statements,” rather than the more precise truth — has found false claims made in the column?

Lynn Walsh is Ethics Chair for the Society of Professional Journalists. I asked her about editorial annotation of Trump’s op-ed. She said, “The guiding principle is to be as transparent as possible with your readers. The more transparency, the better.”

Prior to publishing Trump’s op-ed, USA TODAY had been meticulous about transparency, updating other opinion pieces and posting editor’s notes on them.

On September 28, USA TODAY published an opinion piece by sports reporter Erik Brady, titled: Is Brett Kavanaugh right that he can no longer coach girls basketball?

On September 30, Manny Garcia addressed the piece in his column, writing, “Our sports writer wrote an opinion column but didn’t mean to malign the Supreme Court nominee. For transparency, here’s how we corrected it.”

We come full-circle: Garcia wrote that USA TODAY staff members had received threats in response to the publication of the opinion piece about Kavanaugh. They had to notify law enforcement.

Is Trump’s violent rhetoric, and its terrifyingly real consequences, influencing practices and standards of journalists?

Craig Newmark recently criticized The New York Times for its coverage of the 2016 presidential race and offered general advice: “Don’t be a loudspeaker for liars.”

Republicans in Congress have abdicated their responsibility to check the president. Instead, they are serving as his enablers and accomplices.

Accountability matters — perhaps now, more than ever. As midterms approach, democracy and decency hang in the balance. History will remember decent people who denounce Trump — and those who refuse to do so. As 20th Century theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself… some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Bill Sternberg and Manny Garcia did not respond to inquiries.

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Opinion // Authoritarianism / Donald Trump / Journalism / Republican Party