Press freedom advocates are slamming Trump for glorifying violence against reporters

By Sarah Al-Arshani | Originally published: Business Insider

Trump rally

President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Press organizations have urged reporters to keep holding President Donald Trump accountable after he applauded physical aggression toward journalists covering his campaign.

“They grabbed a guy — ‘I’m a reporter! I’m a reporter!’ — ‘Get out of here!’ They threw him aside like a bag of popcorn. But honestly, when you watch the crap we’ve all had to take … it’s actually a beautiful sight,” Trump said Tuesday, in reference to an MSNBC reporter who was hit by a rubber bullet while covering protests in Minnesota in May.

John Donnelly, the chair of the press freedom team at the National Press Club, told Business Insider “a statement that glorifies violence against reporters is anathema to the American constitution.”

Donnelly said that Trump’s latest comments follow a long list of broadsides against journalists, which ultimately pose a threat to democracy itself.

“What he is doing is akin to what a Duterte or an Erdogan or a Putin might do,” Donnelly added, referring to the president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte and the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Not what you would expect from a president of the United States and not what we have seen from the president of the United States up to this point. So it is extremely concerning for reporters, but it is par for the course for this president,” Donnelly said.

In its own statement, the Society of Professional Journalists said it was “appalled” by Trump’s latest remarks applauding violence against the news media.

“Promoting physical contact against journalists who are just trying to do their jobs during a pandemic is sickening and frankly, un-American. The president of the United States should be above calling a journalist ‘a little bag of popcorn’ and calling a journalist’s forceful removal ‘a beautiful sight,'” the statement read.

Elisa Lees Muñoz, the executive director for the International Women’s Media Foundation told Business Insider she was shocked but not surprised by Trump’s comments.

She said Trump’s remarks continue to put reporters at risk on the ground, and online.

According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, at least 201 journalists have been attacked so far this year. There have also been more than 800 reports of aggression against reporters during Black Lives Matter protests.

“We know that journalists are being physically harmed on the ground, but to have it be mocked, and praised was beyond the pale, even for this president and this administration,” Muñoz said.

She added that some of Trump’s rhetoric has even been adopted by leaders abroad who have used it as justification to attack reporters there, especially women.

“It’s happened in the Philippines. It’s happened in Mexico, and in Brazil,” Muñoz said.

Donnelly said Trump’s repeated use of the phrase “fake news” is meant to attack news organizations and the credibility of their reporting, he says what it amounts to is an attempt to deflect criticism and accountability.

“First of all, there is such a thing as actual fake news. It is misinformation often created by America’s adversaries and spewed online,” Donnelly said. “But when the president says fake news, he means news that doesn’t serve his agenda or hurts him politically.”

Donnelly urged the press to continue calling out Trump when necessary and to keep telling the truth.

“There’s a temptation to say, ‘Oh, there’s Trump being Trump again,’ and to just move on, but we have to call out every single time he does this as unacceptable because it is beyond the pale. He is attacking a pillar of our country.”