On Sunday, Donald Trump seemed to promote violence against CNN.
He tweeted an old video clip of him performing in a WWE professional wrestling match, with a CNN logo superimposed on the head of his opponent. Trump is shown slamming the CNN avatar to the ground and pounding him with punches and elbows to the head. Trump added the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN, for “fraud news network.”
This tweet culminated a bizarre week of Trump attacks on the media.
On Saturday, Trump used a portion of his speech at the “Celebrate Freedom” rally to denounce the press. “The fake media is trying to silence us, but we will not let them,” he said. “The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I’m president and they’re not.”
Trump’s words drew a standing ovation from the crowd, which waved small U.S. flags.
On Thursday, Trump posted a crude tweet blasting the co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” who have been critical of him — calling Mika Brzezinski “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and Joe Scarborough “Psycho Joe,” and claiming that when they visited him, Brzezinski “was bleeding badly from a facelift.”
Wednesday on Twitter, Trump charged that “The *#AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!” It wasn’t clear exactly what Trump meant by this, except to take a jab at Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who purchased the Post in 2013.
What’s going on here?
Maybe Trump’s attacks on the press were meant to distract public attention from a week of embarrassing news.
If Trump’s goal was deflection, he did a fairly good job. His inflammatory tweets and statements took up a lot of newspaper space and airtime. Or perhaps Trump is truly losing it. “President Trump is not well,” Scarborough and Brzezinski concluded after the Trump tirade against them.
But I fear an even more menacing reality.
Trump began his presidency attacking the press for “fake news.” Then he called the networks and publications that criticized him “enemies of the people.” His newly escalating attacks seem to be going a step further — mobilizing his supporters against media personalities and executives who are critical of him.
As the tweets and rallies become shriller and more provocative, their underlying message is that Trump’s critics are bad people who are conspiring to undo his presidency — people whom Trump supporters must “not let” silence him, who deserve to be slammed the way Trump took it out on CNN in the mock video he posted.
It’s a narrative that is showing up increasingly on right-wing websites. In one recent video from the National Rifle Association, for example, Dana Loesch, an NRA spokeswoman and former editor at Breitbart News, charges that a left-wing cabal “use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”
As black-and-white images of protests play in the background, Loesch says, “The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth.”
This “clenched fist” theme is being legitimized by the president, who’s on a new and intensifying warpath against those in the media who criticize him.
Will news organizations and professionals be intimidated? Probably not, at least not at this point. But we may be on a slippery path. Trump’s increasingly incendiary tweets and messages constitute an overt assault on freedom of the press, the cornerstone of our democracy.
Whether you agree or disagree with Donald Trump, all of us must stand up against this.