A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
I usually come up short when I reach for words to describe the radicalization of the far right in America. This short video conveys it like no words can. Kevin Vesey, a reporter for News 12 Long Island, covered a reopening rally in Commack on Thursday. Vesey was harassed by a bevy of pro-Trump protesters who called him “fake news,” a “traitor,” and so on.
After he shared the video on Twitter and it went viral, Vesey followed up by saying, “I’ll probably never forget what happened today. I was insulted. I was berated. I was practically chased by people who refused to wear masks in the middle of a pandemic. All the while, I was there to tell THEIR story.” He did, and he filed this fair report at the end of the day.
Among the verbal arrows targeting Vesey: “You’re disgusting.” “You are the virus.” “You are the enemy of the people!” “You shouldn’t be here.” “Traitor!” “F— you. You guys are f—ing fake news.” Some of the taunts were very personal, reflecting the fact that Vesey is well known in the community: “Tell the truth, Kevin, come on.” At one point the crowd chanted: “Fake news is not essential.”
This crowd didn’t reflect all Trump supporters, nor did it reflect all Long Islanders. But these behaviors toward the news media — the intolerance, the indecency — have all been modeled by President Trump for several years. No one should be surprised to see it infect local communities. But everyone should be disturbed by it. Constructive critiques make journalism better, but destructive attacks make society worse.
Reporters as targets at protests
As it so happens, the NYT’s Marc Tracy just penned a new story about anti-lockdown protesters raging against reporters.
One encounter in Columbus went viral earlier this month. And “journalists in at least three other states have been involved in altercations at anti-lockdown protests in recent weeks,” Tracy wrote. “In Germany, reporters covering similar protests have been victims of at least four assaults, according to the International Press Institute…”