Free speech advocates warned against President Donald Trump's authoritarian rhetoric demonizing journalists following a speech at a rally in Pennsylvania on Tuesday in which the commander-in-chief celebrated violence against members of the press.
"Trump has been inciting hatred of reporters for years," Mark Follman, national affairs editor for Mother Jones, tweeted. "As a result, American journalists have faced many violent threats... Trump veils it with mockery—but this behavior is no joke. It's fascist, and it's dangerous."
Referring to journalists covering ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and worldwide, Trump said: "They'd grab one guy... They threw him aside like he was a little bag of popcorn. Honestly, when you watch the crap that we've all had to take so long, when you see that—you don't want to do that—but when you see it, it's actually a beautiful sight."
"It's a beautiful sight," he repeated. The president also called MSNBC correspondent Ali Velshi, who was struck with a rubber bullet while covering a protests, an "idiot reporter."
Velshi responded, tweeting, "Why is a journalist getting shot 'a beautiful thing' to Trump?"
Free press advocates were also quick to call out the president's continued attacks.
In a statement Wednesday, W. Jeffrey Brown, founder and executive director of the Fourth Estate, said:
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The freedom of the press is essential to a healthy democracy in which the government and the powerful are accountable to the people. So vital that the work of the press is protected in the U.S. Constitution by the Bill of Rights.
Yet we live in a time when politicians are putting the sanctity of the Constitution aside, encouraging and glorifying acts of intimidation and life-threatening violence against members of the press.
This is not a partisan issue—attacks and threats on the press represent an existential threat to freedom and democracy.
While Donald Trump's repeated statements glorifying attacks and violence on the press are not technically unconstitutional, they do represent a reckless disregard for the oath of office.
Those repeated statements, advocates pointed out, are tactics used by authoritarian leaders.
"These are the actions of a fascist," Wajahat Ali, a contributing writer for the New York Times, tweeted last week following a rally where Trump also took aim at Velshi following his injury.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also called attention to Trump's rhetoric, tweeting last week about the president's comments, "This is what authoritarianism looks like."
"An American president does not praise violence against a reporter for doing his job," the senator continued. "That is what an ugly, insecure two-bit dictator does. The future of our democracy and a free press is at stake this election. We must defeat Trump badly."