This week at Donald Trump’s rally, Jim Acosta specifically and CNN generally were the subject of an angry display by Trump supporters who shouted, cursed, and made insulting gestures, mocking the network and its reporters, as well as the press in general.
The press are the enemy of the people, says the president. Despite an attempted narrowing of that broad indictment this afternoon, it is a given in MAGA circles that the press are the enemy of America and of Trump. Or the enemy of America because they are the enemy of Trump. That line is pretty blurry.
Nevertheless, it’s obvious that the already near-peak resentment among the Trump base of the hated MSM is reaching new highs lately, and the president likes and encourages that hatred. It’s all the easier to get his spin and lies accepted as truth and transparency if the masses are trained to believe no one but you. It’s dangerous, that’s for sure.
But yelling at the press is not unique or new in American politics, and in fact, compared to the past, this week’s display of displeasure for Acosta and co. was positively mild.
Let’s go on a Throwback Thursday trip to 2008. This is video I captured myself during the Recreate 68 protest march at the DNC in Denver. (Language Warning)
That is a Fox News crew covering the protest. I was watching as the crowd figured out who they were and went from zero to zeroing-in in a matter of minutes. At the center are reporter Griff Jenkins and his camera crew. The guy holding the camera had it shoved forcefully into his face, leaving a bleeding wound on his nose. It was an ugly scene.
But you may not remember it. No president was asked about it. No Democrat candidate was made to disown it. It didn’t get much press. Not like this week’s mob.
Here’s another one. (More language warning.)
Oh, also, here’s another one. (Language warning some more.)
The question here is not “whatabout,” because no one should be excused. You don’t let the Tampa rally-goers off the hook because protesters 10 years ago were also angry.
Instead, the point of looking back is to say that, first, the rejection of media perceived as biased or antagonistic is a fairly widespread phenomenon. That is to say, when a group or groups of people feel that a press outlet with a big microphone is being unfair, unjust, biased, cruel, dehumanizing, or simply antagonistic, there does generally seem to be pushback. Left-wing blogs to this day still angrily lament the mainstream press as being too unfair to Hillary Clinton or, remarkably, too kind to Trump.
It’s important to understand that because you can’t possibly correct a problem if you misunderstand its root causes. It’s not enough to say, “Trump frenzies his crowds,” even though he does do that. You have to also say, “people of all kinds get angry at media they see as adversarial and even become aggressively hostile.” Because then you are addressing it honestly and without one arm behind your back.
Secondly, it’s worth bringing this up because there is, in fact, a question at hand about the character of people on the right. Do they care about freedom of the press? Do they care about the truth? Do they care about the rights of others? And again, in order to assess that character by virtue of its flaws, you must be honest about what those flaws are, and in whom they exist. Is it the character of the right-wing in question? Of Trump fans? Is it the character of Americans in general? The nature of human beings?
Oh, I forgot, here’s one more. (Even more language warning.)
It’s a little snarky to post this under the Throwback Thursday rubric, sure. But these are valid reminders. And it’s a valuable reminder to the press that part of the reason people are dissatisfied is how unevenly and unequally they cover stories like this. To put it another way: if there had been a national crisis of conscience after the attack on the Fox News crew in 2008, would the situation today be as bad as it is?
Maybe it would. I don’t know. Trump is attacking the press because he doesn’t like people criticizing him, so maybe things would be just as bad. I do know it’s worth asking yourself. And I definitely know you’d have a better case to make if you had been as upset then for Griff Jenkins as you are now for Jim Acosta.
You should think about that. Really. Really try this introspection. It’s good for you and, therefore, for all of us.