BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Let's start with some basic questions: Is it fair to blame President Donald Trump's fiery anti-media rhetoric for the murder of five Capital Gazette journalists? When Trump attacks the press, is he also attacking democracy?
Trump's verbal abuse against the media in general, and journalists covering his campaign -- and now his presidency -- has been unrelenting. At a Trump rally days before the shooting at the Capital Gazette's newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, which killed five staff members -- editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, 59; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications; editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, 61; editor and sports writer John McNamara, 56; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant -- Trump called journalists the "enemy of the American people."
He has consistently labeled the work of the mainstream media "fake news," and called journalists "absolute scum," "disgusting" and "very dishonest."
In the wake of the shooting, in a robotic read-from-the-script moment, Trump offered up his thoughts and prayers for the gunned-down victims and their families. Then, at an event marking six-months since the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Trump said: "This attack shocked the conscience of our nation and filled our hearts with grief. Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job."
Trump's remarks brought to mind the character Renault in Casablanca,who was ordered to shut down Rick Blaine's "gin joint":
Renault: Everybody is to leave here immediately! This cafe is closed until further notice. Clear the room, at once!
Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Renault: I am shocked- shocked- to find that gambling is going on in here!
Croupier: [hands Renault money] Your winnings, sir.
Renault: Oh, thank you very much. Everybody out at once!
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, a persistent critic of Trump, believes he consciously incites violence against the media. During her recent appearance on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," Rubin said: "The person who is fomenting violence the most is the president of the United States. He turns the crowd on journalists, a hooting, hollering, screaming mass of people. He individually picks out journalists for them to direct their ire."
She added: "He calls us the enemy of the people, he says that we are unpatriotic, that we do not love our country, and we're surprised when someone picks up a gun to kill us?"
"Trump's attitude has infected the entire culture, emboldening other public officials to trash press rights," Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post observed. "It's no wonder that America's press-freedom ranking is sinking among the nations of the world in a recent Reporters Without Borders study."
While Trump may temporarily tone down the rhetoric about the media, he will always have the sycophants at Fox News to do his media-blasting work for him. As The New York Times' Michael Grynbaum recently wrote, "The Trump-Fox connection extends beyond friendship and flattery to outright advocacy. The president is the beneficiary of a sustained three-hour block of aggressive prime time punditry, which has amplified his unfounded claims and given ballast to his attacks on the news media as the 'enemy of the American people.'"
The Arizona Republic's EJ Montini pointed out that: "Trump has insulted newspaper journalists, television journalists, male journalists, female journalists, journalists of different ages, races and ethnicities. He mocked a reporter with a disability.
"When asked by '60 Minutes' correspondent Lesley Stahl why he does this, Stahl said the president told her, 'You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.'"
There doesn't appear to be a connection between Trumpism and the shooter – who had his own particular set of senseless grievances against the newspaper and it staff. However, there is no question that the president has spent the past few years persistently denigrating the media, and that toxic vilification can have dire results.
One final question: Since it is a given that Trump will never apologize for his savage anti-press rhetoric, how long will it take for him to return to that script? One week, two weeks, more than a month? Your guess is as good as mine!