KPIX 5 News reporter Katie Nielsen handcuffed by Oakland police. (photo: Erin Baldassari via US Press Freedom Tracker)

Donald Trump And The National Police State’s War On Journalists

 

by Richard Cameron


 

Donald Trump And The National Police State’s War On Journalists

There was a time when if we thought of a national hostility toward journalists from a police state, we thought of places like Russia, Latin and Central America and various governments in the Middle East and Asia. We thought also, of the horrific slaughter of Jamal Khashoggi, by a group of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s personal agents.

With some exceptions, America was thought to be relatively “exceptional”, in that field reporters possessed a measure of immunity from the brutality of police intent on not having their activities documented. 

It never was the case, it just seemed as though it was, if only by comparison to places where matters were worse.  The attempts to document the national response to George Floyd’s murder, have been met with excessive force by uniformed thugs with badges.

An information clearinghouse maintained by journalist advocacy groups like the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists – the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, has confirmed over 328 violations of press freedom, from May 26 and June 6, related to their field coverage of the national George Floyd protests

It has cataloged and referenced the following:


What has transpired so far, is tracking well ahead of the trends of the last 3 years, with 2020 totals approaching that of all of the documented attacks on journalists and press freedom in 2019.

list of attacks on U.S. journalist for the past 3 years

It is plainly the fact that Donald Trump has been a prime motivational factor influencing these assaults on the American press.

Trump’s messaging against the media, while not strictly speaking, explicit – has been more than implicit enough to convey his intentions. He calls the media “the enemy of the American people.”

One of countless Donald Trump tweets, this one from February of 2017, in which he calls the U.S. news media "the enemy of the American people."

Stephanie Sugars, Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) research assistant, compiled these statistics on Trump’s barrage against journalists on the Twitter platform and the numbers she sites do not even include the blistering rhetoric from the last 18 months:

“Since announcing his candidacy in the 2016 presidential elections to the end of his second year in office, U.S. President Donald Trump has sent 1,339 tweets about the media that were critical, insinuating, condemning, or threatening. In lieu of formal appearances as president, Trump has tweeted over 5,400 times to his more than 55.8 million followers; over 11 percent of these insulted or criticized journalists and outlets, or condemned and denigrated the news media as a whole.”

 

Graph depicts incidents of Trump tweets to the end of 2019, in which he aims belligerent and reckless statements at American press and media that report news about him he considers unfavorable.
Graph depicts incidents of Trump tweets to the end of 2019, in which he aims belligerent and reckless statements at American press and media that report news about him he considers unfavorable.

A representative tweet from Trump of more recent vintage, was this from a week ago:

“The Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy. As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS!”

CPJ also tracks reports it receives from journalists that have been targeted for reprisals after having been specifically named by Trump as his opponents. 

Ms. Sugars details that, “the rhetoric has sometimes resulted in harassment of individual journalists in the U.S., where CPJ is aware of several journalists who say they were harassed or threatened online after being singled out on Twitter by Trump.”

One insidious result of Trump’s campaign against reputable news outlets and the men and women who gather and report news, is that polling surveys find that one third of the respondents believe that all journalistic venues other than Fox News and the thousands of conveyor belts on the internet of disinformation and propaganda – are “enemies of the American people” and consist of “fake news.”

The expression, “enemy of the people” Trump uses in modified form, to describe the news media, the majority of which he disapproves of and classifies as personal opponents – has a rich and storied history of use by murderous authoritarian regimes. One citation is from Nazi propaganda arm, Der Stürmer:

“The Jews don’t want to go to Madagascar – They cannot bear the climate. Jews are pests and disseminators (sic) of diseases. In whatever country they settle and spread themselves out, they produce the same effects as are produced in the human body by germs. … In former times sane people and sane leaders of the peoples made short shrift of enemies of the people. They had them either expelled or killed.”

There is a particularly high concentration of this antagonism among the ranks of law enforcement, which goes a long way toward accounting for the hostility and physical assaults visited on anyone wearing press credentials at such events as protests against excessive force and police misconduct. 

Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske was among the journalists who was fired upon and hit in the leg by tear gas by police in Minnesota last weekend.

Hennessy-Fiske recalled the experience in an article for the Times in which she observed that police officers fired “tear gas indiscriminately into the street” before backing her and fellow Los Angeles Times photographer Carolyn Cole against the wall and repeatedly firing tear gas at them at point-blank range.

More than 54 journalists have been arrested and a total of 208 assaults on reporters so far, with 173 of the incidents committed  by police.  U.S. Press Freedom Tracker data shows that to date, of the 73 physical attacks on journalists (47 by police), there have been 83 instances of reporters being hit by rubber bullets or projectiles.

“It is not just disturbing, it’s unprecedented,” Kirstin McCudden, the managing editor of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, said on Wednesday. “What’s really important to note is that the majority of [incidents] are coming from law enforcement.”

Nick Waters, a senior reporter for investigative journalism website Bellingcat, has also collected 140 incidents of police targeting journalists who were covering the protests in a thread on Twitter, many of which are accompanied by graphic video evidence. 

Here, in this clip from MSNBC, you can see that Louisville, KY police fired rubber bullets directly at members of the Wave 3 News crew:

 

Bellingcat also reported that photo-journalist Linda Tirado was hit in the left eye by a less lethal round while covering events in Minneapolis. She later found out she had been permanently blinded.

Linda Tirado, photojournalist hit by a police projectile in Minneapolis while she covered the George Floyd protests. Emergency room photo shows extreme trauma to left eye, which later was determined to have caused permanent partial blindness.
Linda Tirado, photojournalist hit by a police projectile in Minneapolis while she covered the George Floyd protests. Emergency room photo shows extreme trauma to left eye, which later was determined to have caused permanent partial blindness.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this past Wednesday, filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of journalists who were targeted and attacked by Minneapolis and Minnesota police. In the filing, the civil liberties advocacy org charges Minnesota law enforcement of wrongfully arresting, injuring and harassing journalists covering the protests.

“The past week has been marked by an extraordinary escalation of unlawful force deliberately targeting reporters,” the ACLU said in its filing. “These apparently deliberate attacks on journalists violate the First Amendment freedom of the press, and they will not go unanswered.”

The ACLU and its affiliates in other states, will be filing additional suits dealing with assaults, false arrests and excessive force under color of authority against journalists elsewhere across the nation.

There are so many incidents, the deliberate nature of which are too numerous to fully outline here, but that they are intentional, there can be no serious question.

Gordon Stables, the director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism, contends that the police’s widespread attacks on and arrests of journalists is not random, but deliberate.

“It is inescapable that in a number of communities, especially on Saturday evening, the police seem to regard journalists as part of the problem and not a constitutionally protected part of the community, which is really disturbing. I appreciate how difficult this is for law enforcement, but it’s not just one police officer in one city…We are in a very worrying place where we see people who have been international correspondents saying that this feels like their experiences in nondemocratic regimes.”

The targeting of journalists by elements of law enforcement who militate against any sort of documentation, written or multi-media, of their actions, is clear, as evidenced by the simple fact that reporters make it a point to wear clear identification that police assigned to cover public demonstrations are well familiar with.

It’s important to realize that apart from a clear probable cause example of interference with the duties of a police officer, there are no legal grounds for arresting a journalist. 

Reporting is protected under the First Amendment, but arrests are made as a form of harassment, because in many cases, officers face little to no accountability or consequences as they hide behind un-Constitutionally constructed defenses of qualified immunity.”

The awareness on their part of who they are targeting, is summed up by the Dallas P.D. officer who told a photojournalist while arresting him during protests on May 30, “Yeah, yeah. Press, press. You are going to jail!” 

“We put our hands up and yelled, ‘We’re media!’”

That’s what MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi said on the network  reporting that police shot a rubber bullet at him while he was reporting on a protest in Minneapolis, MN on Saturday. “They responded, ‘We don’t care!’ and they opened fire a second time.”

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