Speaking truth to power can get you killed.
News people around the world know this. The gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey is merely another stark reminder.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 62 other journalists have been killed this year alone — with 27 of them confirmed murdered in retaliation for their press work. Since 1992, more than 1,800 journalists have been killed worldwide.
Journalists also face threats short of murder — harassment, intimidation, mob violence. Reporters covering a recent riot over whether women should be allowed into a Hindu temple in Kerala, India, were attacked when the crowd turned on them.
Though the United States is certainly a safer place for journalists than many other countries, disturbing rhetoric from President Donald Trump — who routinely refers to the press as “the enemy of the people” and who recently made light of a U.S. representative’s physical assault of a reporter — echoes that of authoritarian governments that routinely try to quash the free press.
It is hard not to wonder if the man who shot up the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md., killing five, wasn’t somehow triggered by Trump’s rhetoric against the press. The man had held a grudge against the newspaper since its 2011 coverage of a harassment case against him — but wasn’t driven to action until this year.
Trump’s anti-press rhetoric took an astounding turn at a recent rally in Montana when he appeared to praise U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte for his assault on a reporter in May 2017. “Never wrestle him. You understand that? Never. Any guy who can do a body-slam. ... He’s my guy.”
Gianforte body slammed a reporter for the Guardian who had asked him a question about health care policy.
So, as the world was recoiling from the murder and dismemberment of a journalist by Saudi Arabia, Trump thought joking about the criminal assault of a reporter by an elected official was wise.
“The rhetoric that comes from the White House emboldens people,” said Tim Crews, publisher and editor of The Sacramento Valley Mirror, after the shooting at the Capital Gazette. “When you get the chief executive get up there and say, ‘Journalists are enemies of the people,’ there are enough unhinged people that will take that to heart.”
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 39 journalists have been attacked in the United States so far this year, mostly while covering protests — including getting shoved and body-slammed by police, assaulted by protesters at a rally, shoved by celebrities and bloodied by a thrown water bottle.
Again, journalists outside the United States often face far greater dangers, but U.S. reporters — especially local ones — are often the target of threats and harassment.
It goes with the job, unfortunately. But reporters are driven to do the work they do and, for most, the risks are worth it. Journalists, though, must certainly wish their president would stop attacking them and referring to them as “the enemy of the people.”
Such talk not only endangers American journalists, it erodes the credibility of the United States and emboldens autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia.