POTUS & the press

The president endangers the media and public alike

Less than six months on the job as CN&R editor-in-chief, I got my first death threat. It was written on an editorial clipped out of this paper that called into question the justification for local police using lethal force on a teenager driving a stolen car.

My former boss, Robert Speer, happened to swing by the office a few days after I received that piece of hate mail, so I asked him to check it out. I’ll never forget the stunned look on his face as he read the vulgarity-laced messages calling for me to die. I asked him how many times he’d received death threats. Speer’s answer: never. Not once in his more than 40 years as a journalist.

As implied above, it’s not the only threat I’ve received during my tenure. Speaking truth to power tends to piss people off.

I was reminded of this particular ugly chapter in my work life this week following news about a video in which President Trump’s head is superimposed on a movie character who slaughters people in a church. In this case, the setting is the “Church of Fake News” and the victims are Trump critics and members of the media.

It was played last week at one of the president’s hotels during a pro-Trump conference, though organizers say the video wasn’t produced by the group, according to a story published Sunday in The New York Times. The White House denounced the video the next day and said the president would review it. Trump’s reaction: silence.

Despite issuing 36 tweets throughout the day, many attacking his political foes, the president of the United States failed to condemn the violent video. As his detractors have pointed out, he even tweeted for his followers to vote for former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who’s competing on Dancing With the Stars.

But let’s not pretend like this was unexpected. Trump has spent virtually his entire presidency referring to the press as “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” Nothing has stopped him—not even the slaying of five employees at a Maryland newspaper just last year.

Indeed, the president doesn’t care if journalists are killed. He’s happy to be the “friend” of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—the man responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who’d been critical of the royal family.

Trump hates the media because he’s afraid of the reporting on his troubled administration, including the criminal activity of his closest supporters, and his acquiescence to dictators. He’s worried about the evidence showing he’s committed impeachable offenses. Like other demagogues, his defense includes attacking the free press.

Perhaps most troubling to Trump is the recent Fox News poll revealing that a majority of Americans favor him being thrown out of office. This gives me a glimmer of hope that people are waking up to the fact that this president has made all of us less safe and that journalists play an integral role in getting to the truth. Time will tell.

As for that aforementioned CN&R editorial questioning the local police shooting, though we were alone in that assessment at the time, a federal appeals court years later came to that conclusion, too. Eventually, the city of Chico settled a wrongful death lawsuit for nearly $1 million.