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Trump’s Crusade Against ‘Fake News’ Is Poised to Turn Violent

The president’s attacks on the media correspond with threats against reporters at CNN, NBC and elsewhere

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the airport in Helsinki, Finland, Sunday, July 15, 2018 on the eve of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Trump

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

President Trump is on a two-week working vacation at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club, and he appears to be having a difficult time relaxing. As the Mueller investigation continues to tighten its focus around Trump and his associates, the president has spent the first few days of his summer vaca lashing out against both the investigation and the media that is covering its developments. On Sunday morning, Trump introduced a new wrinkle into his ongoing campaign against the Fake News, alleging that the media “can also cause War!”

Less than an hour later, the president attacked the Fake News again, this time for reporting that he is concerned his “wonderful son” may be in legal jeopardy as a result of his June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

The attacks come as tension between the press and the White House has grown exponentially. Following a rally in Tampa, Florida, last Tuesday, CNN’s Jim Acosta posted a video of Trump supporters harassing him. “I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt,” Acosta wrote. In response to criticism of his supporters’ behavior, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders unleashed a new string of attacks against the media, including an attempt to blame the press for 9/11 by citing a debunked claim that a media report compromised the government’s ability to listen to one of Osama bin Laden’s satellite phones. Sanders has yet to address the false claim.

On Thursday, Acosta pressed Sanders to assure the American people that the White House does not consider the media to be the enemy of the people. She refused to do so, and Acosta walked out of the briefing. “I walked out of the end of that briefing because I am totally saddened by what just happened,” he tweeted. “Sarah Sanders was repeatedly given a chance to say the press is not the enemy and she wouldn’t do it. Shameful.”

Even Fox News is growing concerned about the president’s attacks. After Trump tweeted on Sunday that the “dangerous & sick” media can cause war, Chris Wallace asked National Security Adviser John Bolton about the president’s comments. “There is press bias. People get stories wrong and they’re called out for it. We should be called out for it we make a mistake,” Wallace said. “Cause war? Sick? Divisive? This is taking it to a completely different level.”

“That’s the president’s view,” Bolton said before attempting to argue that “this kind of adversarial relationship is typical.”

Those who might not find it so typical are the journalists whose lives have been threatened as a result of Trump’s campaign to discredit the free press. On Friday, someone called into C-SPAN and made threats against CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon. Stelter aired the clip on Sunday after the president once again labeled the media the “enemy of the people.” After falsely claiming that Stelter and Lemon called all Trump supporters racists, the caller said, “If I see them, I’m going to shoot them.”

Stelter went on to point out that the night before the call was made, Sean Hannity on Fox News referenced a two-year-old clip of Stelter questioning whether racial anxiety was a factor in Trump’s popularity. Later on Friday, Trump tweeted that Lemon is “the dumbest man on television.”

While playing the clips, Stelter made clear that the C-SPAN call is only one example of the threats the media is receiving, and that several other reporters have received far more disturbing messages from Trump supporters. One of those is NBC’s Katy Tur, who on Thursday delivered a powerful monologue in which she revealed that she receives countless threatening messages from Trump supporters, one of which expressed a desire for Tur to “get raped and killed.”

Another is New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens, who on Friday wrote about how he had been threatened after writing a column defending ABC’s decision to fire Roseanne Barr. Here’s Stephens detailing the message he received:

“The voice, if I had to guess, belongs to that of a white American male in late middle age. The accent is faintly Southern, the manner taunting but relaxed. It’s also familiar: I’m pretty sure he’s left a message on my office number before. But the last voice mail left almost no impression. Not this time.

“’Hey Bret, what do you think? Do you think the pen is mightier than the sword, or that the AR is mightier than the pen?’

“He continues: ‘I don’t carry an AR but once we start shooting you f—ers you aren’t going to pop off like you do now. You’re worthless, the press is the enemy of the United States people and, you know what, rather than me shoot you, I hope a Mexican and, even better yet, I hope a n— shoots you in the head, dead.’

“He repeats the racial slur 10 times in a staccato rhythm, concluding with the send-off: ‘Have a nice day, n— lover.'”

Stephens concluded by saying, “We are approaching a day when blood on the newsroom floor will be blood on the president’s hands.”

None of this seems to bother the president, whose White House refuses to condemn the behavior of his supporters while repeatedly stoking their anger toward the media. It doesn’t matter if the president isn’t explicitly calling for violence against the media. He is actively sewing vitriol against the press in his supporters. The president knows this, but he has chosen to ignore it because the potential of a violent attack against the press is a small price to pay for his need to skirt accountability for his actions.

In June, five staffers of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, were killed by a lone gunman in their newsroom. President Trump tweeted his thoughts and prayers, and the White House initially declined Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley’s request for American flags to be lowered to half-mast in honor of the victims. (The White House later agreed to honor the request.)

Though it’s unclear what exactly motivated the Capital Gazette shooter, a few months prior to Trump announcing his candidacy, 12 staffers of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo were killed in what was widely considered to be an attack motivated by the magazine’s left-wing editorial. Trump responded to the tragedy by attacking the publication.

The attacks against the magazine are similar to what Trump has said repeatedly about the “Failing New York Times” or the cable networks he claims are struggling in the ratings. As Bolton told Wallace on Sunday, it is “the president’s view” that these institutions are sick, disgusting and enemies of the American people. As has been made clear over the course of Trump’s entire public life, the president likes it when bad things happen to those he perceives as his enemies.

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