At a press briefing on Wednesday, the White House offered a defense of President Donald Trump's implicit endorsement of anti-press vitriol that was on display at his rally in Tampa, Florida the previous evening, when several Trump supporters heckled CNN reporter Jim Acosta.
When asked whether or not it is wrong for the president's "most vocal supporters to be menacing towards journalists," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assured reporters that the president supports a free press, while appearing to suggest that Acosta and other journalists may be deserving of mistreatment.
"Despite his heavy reliance on the media to build his brand, President Trump has attacked the mainstream media repeatedly since the days before he entered the White House." —Eugene Scott, the Washington Post"We fully support a free press but there also comes a high level of responsibility with that," Huckabee Sanders told David Martosko, political editor of the Daily Mail. "The media routinely reports on highly classified information and government secrets that put lives in danger and risk valuable national security tools."
"No broadcaster was broadcasting state secrets," Martosko replied.
SANDERS *defends* Trump supporters berating journalists: "The president thinks the media holds a responsibility. We fully support a free press. There also comes a high level of responsibility with that. The media routinely reports on classified information and government secrets" pic.twitter.com/pSLuaRC3xN
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 1, 2018
While trying to cover the event, Acosta was harassed by attendees who crowded around him, waved their middle fingers at him, and shouted, "CNN sucks!"
— Ali Vitali (@alivitali) July 31, 2018
Making clear his endorsement of the treatment Acosta received, the president later retweeted a post by his son, Eric Trump, who applauded the behavior.
Last week, Acosta's CNN colleague, White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, was banned from a press briefing after asking the president questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin and an audio tape in which Trump could be heard apparently discussing a payment to a Playboy model who claims to have had an affair with him.
While the Trump supporters at Tuesday's rally did not become violent, Acosta shared concerns that what he saw was indicative of growing anti-press sentiment that could become dangerous for reporters.
Just a sample of the sad scene we faced at the Trump rally in Tampa. I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy. pic.twitter.com/IhSRw5Ui3R
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) August 1, 2018
Far from taking place in a vacuum, the rally-goers' harassment of Acosta followed numerous anti-media statements by the president since he began his campaign in 2015. In recent months Trump has referred to the news media as "the enemy of the American people," "really bad people," and "downright dishonest," and has singled out CNN several times.
At Esquire, Jack Holmes noted that contempt toward the media was displayed at the rally alongside vocal support for the conspiracy theory known as "QAnon," positing that Democrats are planning to overthrow Trump.
"If you truly believe there is a Deep State plot to unseat the president you love so dearly, and in whom you have invested so much of yourself, and that The Liberal Media is complicit in this effort, how long until you take drastic action?" wrote Holmes. "After all, Pizzagate led a gunman to open fire at a D.C. pizzeria last year."
"Despite his heavy reliance on the media to build his brand, President Trump has attacked the mainstream media repeatedly since the days before he entered the White House," wrote Eugene Scott at the Washington Post. "And increasingly, Trump supporters are demonstrating just how aligned they are with his view that the political press is the enemy of the people."