I once professed fright at the loose talk about assassination of President Obama among various far right zealots. This reached probably a “peak” (or low) when radio firebrand Michael Savage and major Trump supporter referred to the President as “a rabid dog that should be dealt with accordingly” – a direct quote which I personally heard. Somehow this felonious jerk was awarded a place in the National Radio Hall of Fame about the same time he said that.
It all reminded me of what many of us lived through during the JFK Administration: threats against President Kennedy emanating from the “alt-right:’ of those days, especially folks associated with the John Birch Society and General Edwin Walker. Citizens then got used to the talk, flyers and Kennedy hate signs at rallies, but it all culminated in the actual Presidential assassination of November 22, 1963 in the Birch/Walker hotbed of Texas, followed by a whole lot of short-lived hand-wringing about all the violent talk we had tolerated –- and two more major political assassinations of the President’s brother and Dr. Martin Luther King just a few years later.
Now the shoe seems to be on the other foot, as conservative political figures – egged-on by the same far-right advocates and radio hosts that called on folks to use their ‘second Amendment rights” against the Obama administration – are aiming their own assassination threats against members of the news media, and in one recent case actually taking violent action against an “irritating” reporter. Do we really want to go down this dangerous road again?
There were as we recall numerous threats and actions of violence against news media at Trump campaign rallies and even at media events: a well-known Univision anchor and reporter, Jorge Ramos, was physically removed from a press conference. An accredited reporter from a right-wing journal, Michelle Fields, was jostled a Trump campaign manager (and then disowned by her employer when she complained). News media were kept in a pen and routinely taunted and threatened by Trump supporters at rallies, with occasional encouragement from the candidate himself. The campaign passed these eye-witnessed events as fake news or just a kind of harmless fun, effectively trying to create a false equivalence with the sarcastic portrayals on Saturday Night Live of Trump, Clinton and lately Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary).
Much more recently, as leaks published in the media of aspects of the FBI’s investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 election and possible Trump collusion in those efforts have enraged President Trump as well as his staff and supporters, a renewed pattern of purportedly “joking” threats of harm to members of the news media have emerged at the highest levels. The new Homeland Security Chief John Kelly was heard suggesting to the President that a ceremonial sword given to Trump at a Coast Guard graduation celebration be used on the press, with Trump audibly concurring. Then the Governor of Texas, a major Trump supporter, at a ceremony relating to that’s Sate’s decision to reduce the cost of gun carry permits from $70 to $40 brandished his own bullet-riddled gun target sheet and saying he would carry it around in case he meets up with reporters.. And just this week we learn of a GOP candidate Greg Gianforte taking offense at an aggressive media question about health insurance policy at a campaign event and body-slamming the reporter to the ground, breaking his glasses and sending him to the hospital the day before election day.
The fact that he won anyway is neither surprising – given extensive early voting, or unexpected given the state strong GOP leanings. But the disturbing fact is that that some supporters in Montana and elsewhere praised Gianforte’s actions, suggesting he need not apologize, and that the newsperson seemed to have had it coming per Rush Limbaugh, who “condemned’ the attack tongue in cheek. So much for the First Amendment protection that makes you a living, Rush!
Likewise, even the respected conservative columnist David Brooks, chose to “give him a pass” for just apologizing (as Brooks shamefully did on PBS NewsHour on Friday, May 26). Is Brooks suggesting that there should be a double criminal law standard for assaulting reporters by white, rich Republicans – they get off with an apology, while a black man in America body-slams anybody in full view most likely will go to jail (at the very least). While this fact might suggest only that latent racism is surely a reality, David Brooks ought to know better. When he starts condoning violence against the media, we really are heading back down the slippery slope of that lead to the 60’s assassination of political figures. Recall all these actions occurred after our new President called the news media an “enemy of the people” .
And yes, it is appropriate to use the term “assassination” in respect to the threats against the news media, because assassinations are by definition politically motivated killings, and surely that shoe fits snugly in these recent cases – jokes or not jokes. It all started with jokes in the 60’s.
About Terry Connelly
Terry Connelly is an economic expert and dean emeritus of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University. With more than 30 years experience in investment banking, law and corporate strategy on Wall Street and abroad, Terry analyses the impact of government politics and policies on local, national and international economies, examining the interaction of global financial markets, the U.S. banking industry (and all of its regulatory agencies), the Federal Reserve, domestic employment levels and consumer reactions to the changing economic tides. Terry holds a law degree from NYU School of Law and his professional history includes positions with Ernst & Young Australia, the Queensland University of Technology Graduate School of Business, New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore (corporate, securities and litigation practice in New York and London), global chief of staff at Salomon Brothers investment banking firm and Cowen & Company’s investments, where he served as CEO. In conjunction with Golden Gate University President Dan Angel, Terry co-authored Riptide: The New Normal In Higher Education (2011). Riptide deconstructs the changing landscape of higher education in the face of the for-profit debacle, graduation gridlock and staggering student debt, and asserts a new, sustainable model for progress. Terry is a board member of the the Public Religion Research Institute, a Washington, DC think tank and polling organization, and the Cardiac Therapy Foundation in Palo Alto, California. Terry lives in Palo Alto with his wife.