A sudden, very troubling development has caused us to urgently use this space today to issue a journalistic Amber Alert – hopefully in time to mobilize all clear-thinking Americans and prevent a horrific killing.
An assassination, in fact – of a journalist, or perhaps even a cluster of journalists, who are increasingly in danger of becoming targets of convenience simply for doing their jobs, covering the president of the United States.
Because America’s 45th president is also America’s first chief executive who has transformed his presidency into an ever-escalating campaign of vitriolic anti-journalist tirades. It now seems obvious that, sooner or later, Donald Trump’s torrent of hateful invectives and flat-out falsehoods will inevitably incite some wrongheaded individual into falling for Trump’s sick lie that the news media is America’s enemy. After all, thousands of his faithful supporters have been cheering his favorite anti-news media attack lines every time Trump, clearly battling his latest wave of defensiveness, opts to veer off-script.
And Tuesday night, at a huge rally in Phoenix, the president apparently reached his defensive pique, after days of being attacked ever since his initial unwillingness to condemn by name the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va. He careened into a massive anti-media tirade that lasted a half-hour as he cycled and recycled through his litany of attack lines as never before.
“These are really, really dishonest people, and they’re bad people, and I really think they don’t like our country,” Trump said, pointing at the White House press corps and especially the TV cameras. And later: “I’m really doing this to show you how damned dishonest these people are.”
Trump worked even-handedly to be abusive and unfair to all the president’s press corps. He attacked “the failing New York Times, which is like so bad” and then attacked “The Washington Post, which I call a lobbying tool for Amazon, OK, that’s a lobbying tool for Amazon.” Of course he lashed out at “CNN, which is so bad and so pathetic and their ratings are going down” – and that cued his rally faithful to begin chanting: “CNN sucks! CNN sucks!”
So Trump sought to spread his venom more evenly: “I mean CNN is really bad, but ABC this morning – I don’t watch it much, but I’m watching in the morning and they have little George Stephanopoulos talking to (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, right? Little George…” And Trump puts his hand, down palm down, to hip level to show his impression of the ABC anchor’s stature.
Later, he was back to ecumenically questioning the patriotism of the entire press corps: “These are sick people. You know the thing I don’t understand? …You would think they’d want to make our country great again. And I honestly believe they don’t. …If you want to discover the source of the division in our country, look no further than the fake news and the crooked media, which would rather get ratings and clicks than tell the truth.”
In decades of covering American presidents, I have observed Republicans and Democrats with strong convictions and impressive statures. But I have never seen a president who frequently seems to become massively unhinged in the way that has become Trump’s normalcy.
Tuesday night, on CNN, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said of Trump: “I really question … his fitness to be in this office.” He added that, “worry about” the fact that as president, Trump has “access to nuclear codes” for launching a nuclear attack.
That is a problem Official Washington has been privately whispering about for months now. And indeed, Trump’s fitness for office is of frightening concern for us all.
But I also have a concern for the safety of my news media colleagues – because I am convinced that even this out-of-control bully-at-the-presidential-sealed-pulpit doesn’t fathom the inevitable sinister consequences of his own words.
Amber Alert: The Republican Party’s senior leaders in Congress must limo down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where they will be joined by the president’s own cabinet. And speaking with a unity that will be a new experience for their once-Grand Old Party, they must tell their president that his newly perilous anti-media tirades must stop.
I don’t believe that Trump, even at his worst, wants to be responsible for triggering an assassination, let alone a massacre.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.