No president in America’s history has been more hostile to the press than Donald Trump. He repeatedly refers to them in Stalinist terms as the “the enemy of the people.” That openly aggressive posturing is an unambiguous assault on the constitution’s First Amendment. And Trump’s vicious rhetoric has been cited as endangering the work – and lives – of journalists, not just in the United States, but around the world.
On Saturday Trump took another leap crossing over the line of decency and free speech during his latest Coronavirus Super Spreader event in Minnesota. Reading from his teleprompter, Trump told a story about a reporter covering Black Lives Matter protests in the state several weeks ago:
“I remember this guy Welshi. He got hit on the knee with a canister of tear gas and he went down. He was down. […] After we take all that crap – for weeks and weeks they would take that crap – and then you finally see men get up there and go right through… Wasn’t it really a beautiful sight? It’s called law and order.”
"He got hit on the knee with a canister of tear gas," President Trump says, of @AliVelshi, who was actually hit by a rubber bullet. "Wasn't it really a beautiful sight? It's called law and order." pic.twitter.com/sVvnZUft5B
— David Gura (@davidgura) September 19, 2020
Like virtually every story that Trump tells, almost none of this one was truthful. To begin with, the reporter’s name was Ali Velshi, not Welshi. Perhaps Trump was using the Russian pronunciation. Secondly, Velshi was hit by a rubber bullet, not a tear gas canister. But those are relatively trivial misstatements by Trump who is rarely able to express himself coherently (which has not gone unnoticed by the American people).
More troubling was Trump’s celebration of this assault on a journalist by government goons as “a beautiful sight.” How any American “leader” can describe such an attack in those favorable terms is unthinkable. Trump is affirming his long held reputation as a fascist wannabe who aligns himself with the noxious philosophies of the authoritarian dictators he so admires (i.e. Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping, etc.). These are people who brazenly violate press freedoms and even torture and murder critical journalists. And Trump is moving more in that direction every day.
Trump elaborated on his praise for federal agents physically assaulting reporters in another speech later in the day in North Carolina. In that tirade Trump got Velshi’s network wrong, saying he was with CNN, rather than MSNBC. He also lied that Velshi was reporting from a “war zone” when the truth was that he was covering a peaceful demonstration. Well, except for the feds. The video of Velshi’s reporting proves that.
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) May 31, 2020
Velshi himself addressed Trump’s remarks about the incident when he was shot, and asks a relevant question that Trump will surely fail to answer:
So, @realDonaldTrump, you call my getting hit by authorities in Minneapolis on 5/30/20 (by a rubber bullet, btw, not a tear gas cannister) a “beautiful thing” called “law and order”. What law did I break while covering an entirely peaceful (yes, entirely peaceful) march?
— Ali Velshi (@AliVelshi) September 19, 2020
Make no mistake, this was not an off the cuff commentary by a rambling lunatic. Yes, Trump is a rambling lunatic, but this wasn’t off the cuff. He was reading from a teleprompter. And he was deliberately sending a message to his glassy-eyed disciples that assaulting journalists is something that will earn his appreciation. Trump is overtly soliciting his cult followers to commit what can only be described as terrorism. And he is promising to reward them with compliments and praise for what a “beautiful” thing they’ve done.
These remarks by Trump pretty much guarantee that more reporters will be attacked just for doing their jobs. The assailants will feel justified because the president has given his approval in advance. And if there is any justice in this world, Trump will be charged criminally and civilly for any harm that comes to journalists due to his reckless ranting.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.