Editor’s Note: Kurt Bardella is a former spokesperson for Rep. Darrell Issa & the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-California). Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella.
In February 2017, President Donald Trump declared that “The FAKE NEWS media … is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.”
That July, Trump took it even further with a juvenile tweet depicting him attacking someone WWE-style with the CNN logo superimposed over the person’s head.
Trump returned to these familiar attacks, accusing outlets like CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS of engaging in “so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!” In another tweet this week, Trump dubbed the “Fake News Networks” as being “among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with…”
Trump is deliberately undermining the First Amendment and even more insidious, he is using his platform as the leader of the free world to encourage distrust of and, by extension, violence against journalists.
According to the Radio Television Digital News Association’s (RTDNA) US Press Freedom Tracker, there were 44 physical attacks against journalists in the United States last year. Thirty of those attacks came as journalists were covering civil unrest such as in Charlottesville, Virginia. Two were attacked by politicians.
Earlier this year, a Michigan man was arrested for allegedly making 22 threatening calls to CNN. According to the OC Weekly, last March one of its interns was punched by a Trump supporter at a Trump rally in Huntington Beach.
Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte might be the only member of the House of Representatives with a mugshot as a result of his assault of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last May.
Clearly, violence against the free press is no longer a problem limited to parts of the world run by warlords and dictatorial regimes. Violence against journalists is happening right here, right now, in America and it’s happening at the behest and encouragement of the President of the United States.
At least one person is taking this escalation of violence with the gravity and urgency it deserves: Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California). In February, Rep. Swalwell introduced the Journalist Protection Act, which would make it a federal crime for any person to use violence or intimidation to prevent journalists from doing their job.
Speaking at the RTDNA’s First Amendment Defender Awards last month, Swalwell observed that the “hostility toward the media began before the election of Donald Trump, and it won’t go away when he does.”
Once we’ve gone down a certain path it is almost impossible to go back.
At the heart of our democracy is the right to be informed. Journalists exist to ensure we have an informed society. Regardless of who controls the lever of power at any point in time, journalism at its best is a check on that power. We rely on reporters to question our leaders. To demand transparency in their actions. To be the voice of the voiceless.
Nothing would precipitate the fall of our nation more than the eradication of the free press. Of all the issues that require the attention of the Congress, none match the urgency of acting on legislation like Rep. Swalwell’s Journalist Protection Act. The attacks against the media will only escalate and it may be only a matter of time until a deranged person inspired by the President’s words takes matters into their own hands.
The sad truth is we are in many ways already past the unthinkable. We are beyond hypothetical. We must confront the reality of the moment. Our elected representatives are the guardians of our freedom. If they won’t protect that freedom, it will be lost.