Amid a debate over what motivated the alleged gunman in a mass shooting that left five people dead and several others seriously wounded at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md., on Thursday, President Trump took a break from his usual anti-media rhetoric to condemn the killings.
“This attack shocked the conscience of our nation and filled our hearts with grief,” Trump said at the White House on Friday. “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.”
Jarrod Ramos, the 38-year-old suspect, appeared to have what one official described as a “long-standing grievance” with the Capital Gazette over its coverage of allegations that he harassed a woman, a charge he pleaded guilty to in 2011. A defamation suit against the paper, filed by Ramos in 2012, was swiftly dismissed.
“He’s been rather quiet since 2013, stewing away,” county executive Steve Schuh of Anne Arundel County, told the Washington Post.
While assigning blame for the motives of killers has become its own ritual following American mass shootings, enmity towards journalists is difficult to deny in the Trump era.
“We all toil under increasing danger as the president continuously demonizes our profession,” Mark Follman, a national affairs editor for Mother Jones, wrote on Twitter. “This shooting may not be specifically related to Trump’s cynical war on the media — but it’s related to the atmosphere he’s cultivated. He has intentionally stoked rabid mistrust and even hatred of journalists. We’ve all seen his rallies. He’s done it for 3 years.”
Trump himself often devotes sections of his stump speeches to attacking the nation’s press, as he did this week in South Carolina and North Dakota.
“Look at all the fake news back there,” he told supporters at a rally in West Columbia, S.C., on Monday night. “The enemy of the people, I call them.”
For some, Trump’s long-running feud with the media could not be overlooked in assessing the Capital Gazette massacre.
“This president plays with fire,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said on CNN. “He has deliberately demonized the press and journalists. To call them the enemy of the people is a remarkable statement from the head of our government. And that puts every journalist at risk. Now, he didn’t do what happened yesterday in Annapolis, but he certainly helped create a climate … where it’s fair game to go after the press. And where does that end? And that’s what I worry about, that sooner or later it leads to this kind of tragedy.”
“This president has called the press ‘the enemy of the people,’” NPR’s David Folkenflik tweeted. “The press is made up of people largely striving as best they can to help others make sense of their community and world. Whatever the Annapolis shooter’s motive, such rhetoric unacceptable.”
Why was the FBI giving so much information to the Fake News Media. They are not supposed to be doing that, and knowing the enemy of the people Fake News, they put their own spin on it – truth doesn’t matter to them!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2018
“Whatever was in the shooter’s head, the U.S. president stood ready to bolster and validate it,” David Simon, creator of HBO’s “The Wire,” wrote on Twitter. “We know this. It is on the record.”
But another Twitter user was quick to point out the danger of bringing politics into the discussion of a shooter’s motives.
“Were you this incensed when Steve Scalise was shot by that Bernie supporter?” Donald Bader replied. “Should we blame Bernie for that?”
Before the president’s speech in South Carolina, CNN’s Jim Acosta was berated by several Trump supporters, including one woman he said accused him of being rude to Trump and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
“What’s going to happen is we’re going to end up with a civil war,” she said, according to Acosta. “You’re going to have people shooting people.”
On Friday, the New York Press Club issued a statement mourning the Capital Gazette victims — and blaming Trump for the tinderbox he’s helped create.
“The motive for this shooting may have been personal, but the overall climate in which journalists work is becoming increasingly dangerous,” the statement read. “We are physically threatened, and accused of lying, distortion and partisanship, often with the president of the United States in the vanguard.”
At the White House earlier this week, Sanders began a briefing with reporters by calling for civility after she was asked to leave a restaurant over her defense of Trump’s controversial policies.
It turns out that what is really uncivil — and dangerous — is calling the press the enemy of the people.
— Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) June 28, 2018
At the end of Trump’s speech Friday, Acosta shouted the same question three times from the back of the East Room.
“Mr. President, will you stop calling us the enemy of the people?” Acosta yelled. “Will you stop calling the press the enemy of the people, sir? Mr. President, will you stop calling the press the enemy of the people?”
Trump did not respond. It’s not clear if heard the questions.
"Mr. President, will you stop calling the press the enemy of the people," CNN Journalist Jim Acosta shouted at the end of Trump's speech pic.twitter.com/FqWT5afwUV
— POLITICO (@politico) June 29, 2018
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One later Friday afternoon, Trump was again asked whether he would “reevaluate calling the press the enemy of the people.”
“It’s just not the right time to be talking about it,” he replied. “You know, obviously, the press has treated me very badly, but in the meantime I’m president, so, you know, I guess they didn’t treat me badly enough.”
Trump added: “I have a lot of respect for the press, tremendous — some of the greatest people I know are reporters and people in the media. But also you have, like anything else, people that are bad.”
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