Elite Media Need to Recognize Assaults on Reporters as a Pattern–and a Threat

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Elite Media Need to Recognize Assaults on Reporters as a Pattern–and a Threat

Republican candidate for Montana's only U.S. House seat, Greg Gianforte (l), sits in a vehicle near a Discovery Drive building Wednesday, May 24, 2017, in Bozeman, Mont. A reporter with the Guardian newspaper said Gianforte "body-slammed" him Wednesday, the day before the special election. (Photo: Freddy Monares/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP)

It is heartening at least that Montana newspapers withdrew their endorsements of Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte—who won a special election in the state on Thursday—after he grabbed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by the neck for trying to ask him a question, slammed him to the floor and punched him repeatedly (Fox News, 5/24/17) on the eve of election day. More heartening would be a full recognition across elite media that the incident is far from isolated.

As Huffington Post‘s Michael Calderone (5/24/17), for one, pointed out, a Republican state senator in Alaska, David Wilson, reportedly slapped reporter Nathaniel Herz earlier this month over a story Wilson didn’t like; FCC security pinned reporter John M. Donnelly against a wall for trying to ask a commission member a question last week; and West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman was arrested May 10 for trying to ask a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who declared himself pleased with that outcome.

Establishment journalists failed their “first they came for the Communists…” moment at the very beginning of the Trump administration, when DC police arrested and charged at least nine alternative journalists for covering protests at Trump’s inauguration that included property damage.

Calderone notes that this behavior is of course fanned by Donald Trump, who didn’t invent distrust in media but escalated it dramatically in his campaign—blacklisting outlets, shoving reporters around and restricting movements at events, declaring the press the “enemy of the American people”…and now suggesting putting whistleblower journalists in prison.

Establishment journalists failed their “first they came for the Communists…” moment at the very beginning of the Trump administration, when DC police arrested and charged at least nine alternative journalists for covering protests at Trump’s inauguration that included property damage. Charges have since been dropped against most of the reporters, but felony charges are still pending against two: Aaron Cantu (who has written for FAIR.org) faces a maximum of ten years in prison for “rioting,” while Andrei Wood could get up 70 years on charges of rioting and destruction of property. No evidence has been presented to date that either one had any role at the protests other than covering them as news events, but their colleagues in establishment media have not made the criminalization of journalism into a cause celebre.

It’s hard to fathom how a press corps worth its salt would see the imperative of the present as ginning readers up to “say something nice” about Trump, as a new New York Times feature does, but Calderone cites a survey showing that 75 percent of White House reporters say they view Trump’s anti-press rhetoric as a distraction, rather than a threat. In that vein, CNN‘s Chris Cillizza (5/25/17) has referred to Gianforte’s assault as an “error,” as though it were a tactical misstep rather than an attack on press freedom.

One wonders, and worries, what it will take for elite media to change their minds about that.

Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson is FAIR's program director and and producer/co-host of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR's magazine, Extra! and co-edited The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s (Westview Press).

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