Man, there’s nothing like taking a little vacation time to give you some perspective on politics. I spent most of last week up in the mountains of Colorado, where there (thankfully) isn’t much cell service, so it was pretty easy to fall off the grid and let the latest outrage du jour pass me by. Alas, such things are not forever, and eventually the cold reality of Twitter must intrude on such idyllic ignorance. Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017
Naturally, the media–since they’re the often the butt of Donald Trump’s le mot juste–are freaking out over this tweet because they see it as a call for violence against journalists. In fairness, reporters may still be suffering from post-Gianforte stress disorder–but Ben Jacobs getting his glasses broken isn’t exactly the same as Ernie Pyle storming the beaches of Normandy with the troops on D-Day, so you do have to wonder if perhaps the media tenderfoots of today might be blowing this all out of proportion just a bit. Byron York from the Washington Examiner thinks so, and writes:
The relaxed way to read the tweet is that the president is — among other things — an entertainer. He was an entertainer when he was a real estate developer, he was an entertainer when he was a reality show producer and star, and he is an entertainer as president. That doesn’t mean he is not other things — Trump Tower really was built, for example — but it means that he knows how to communicate in the style of an entertainer. That’s what he did in the WWE tweet.
The alarmed way to read the tweet is that the president is inciting violence against journalists. That is the way that most journalists chose to see it. “The president of the United States is encouraging violence against journalists,” tweeted Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg Sunday morning, reflecting what dozens of other establishment journalists were saying. CNN’s statement in reaction to the president, plus that of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said much the same thing.
It’s just an impression, but one could note that some journalists seemed more alarmed by the president’s tweets than by other recent examples of violent political expression — Kathy Griffin holding what appeared to be Trump’s bloody, severed head, or the Trump-as-Caesar assassination, for example. That is probably because many journalists are simply more worried about the prospect of right-wing violence than they are about the prospect of left-wing violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a favored source among some reporters, did not build up a nine-figure endowment by warning about violence from the Left.
York raises an important point here, and is absolutely correct in his analysis. For the media, perceived violence from the Right is far more frightening than actual violence from the Left. But I think he leaves a another salient point off the table, in that the media have a need for right-wing violence to pose a greater danger because it advances their preferred narrative–i.e., Trump supporters are mouth-breathing Troglodytes who use their fists to spread fear and fascism, while the #Resistance are people of reason who take direct action only as a means of defending liberty. The media romanticise that particular brand of violence. The other, not so much.
More important than the narrative, though, is the need for the media to stroke their own egos. Reporters have this burning desire to believe that what they’re doing is not only important, but that it also takes a tremendous amount of courage. In some parts of the world, this is actually true. If you’re a journalist in Mexico investigating the Sinaloa drug cartel or an editor in Russia looking into Vladimir Putin’s shady business deals, you really are risking life and limb to do your job. But here in America? Donald Trump might put a nasty tweet out on you, but that’s pretty much it. That doesn’t exactly make for Great War stories, which is why guys like Brian Williams had to make stuff up to make themselves look like tough guys. The rest of the media are no different, and so they cast themselves as heroes putting themselves on the line against the Trumpian horde. The fact that there is no horde might seem problematic at first–but if you can read every tweet as a violent threat, that’s almost as good as the real thing, isn’t it?
Lighten up guys, or it’s gonna be a long four years for you.