The White House Correspondents Association on Friday condemned President Donald Trump’s praise for a lawmaker’s assault on a reporter, one of several groups representing journalists to denounce the president’s latest affront to the First Amendment.
“All Americans should recoil from the president’s praise for a violent assault on a reporter doing his Constitutionally protected job,” Sirius XM reporter Olivier Knox, the White House Correspondents Association president, said in a statement Friday. “This amounts to the celebration of a crime by someone sworn to uphold our laws and an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has solemnly pledged to defend it. We should never shrug at the president cheerleading for a violent act targeting a free and independent news media.”
At a rally Thursday night in Montana, Trump and his supporters reveled in Rep. Greg Gianforte’s 2016 election-eve body-slam attack on a Guardian reporter asking a question about health care. Gianforte, a Republican elected Montana’s congressman despite the violence, pleaded guilty last year to assault.
“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy,” Trump said, calling Gianforte “a great guy” and a “tough cookie,” while supporters cheered behind him. “I had heard that he body-slammed a reporter ... and I said, ‘Oh, this is terrible, he’s going to lose the election.’ Then I said, ‘I know Montana pretty well,’ and I said I think it might help him. And it did.”
The Guardian also castigated Trump, and said the president risks encouraging further violence against reporters.
“In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats,” The Guardian’s U.S. editor, John Mulholland, said in a statement. “We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”
Trump and his White House have faced fierce criticism for failing to take a stand against Saudi Arabia amid growing evidence its government was involved in the disappearance and possible death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist.
Journalism watchdog groups, including Reporters Without Borders, have downgraded the U.S. in annual press freedom rankings, saying Trump’s frequent press-bashing hyperbole, including calling reporters “the enemy of the people,” and “fake news,” are stoking violence against journalists.
In June, a gunman killed four journalists and a sales assistant at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, the deadliest day for U.S. journalists since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. The president himself shared a video of his supporters angrily chanting “CNN sucks” at a Trump rally in July.
“An alarming number of journalists have faced serious physical assault,” Alexandra Ellerbeck, the North America program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement to HuffPost. “We also know that around the world and even in the United States this year, journalists have been killed for their work. It’s one of the most dangerous times to be a journalist. President Trump should use his platform to condemn press freedom abuses at home and abroad, not cheer on physical assaults of reporters.”
The literary organization PEN America filed a lawsuit this week alleging that Trump’s actions against media organizations have “violated the First Amendment and his oath to uphold the Constitution.”
“President Trump’s explicit praise for Rep. Greg Gianforte’s criminal assault on a reporter marks a startling new low in terms of the White House’s open hostility toward the press,” Suzanne Nossel, the group’s CEO, said Friday. “During a week when the world is riveted in horror at the brutal murder of a journalist by the Saudi government, Trump’s remarks are a chilling reminder that US global leadership on press freedom has collapsed utterly under the President’s watch.”