“Journalists like all Americans should be free of the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs,” President Donald Trump said on Friday, June 29, a day after Jarrod Ramos opened fire in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland and killed five individuals.
The incident occurred on Thursday, June 28, which is considered the deadliest day for journalists who risk their lives just to report the truth so that the American people may be better informed and our government officials are made accountable.
The shooter, who has been charged with five counts of murder, was reportedly motivated by a vendetta against the newspaper after he lost a defamation case he filed against Capital Gazette for a column published in 2012 that described his guilty plea to harassing a woman on social media.
Trump’s comment came a day late after ignoring reporters’ questions about the tragedy, an unusual response for the president who would fire a barrage of attacks over Twitter to defend his loyal supporters like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and even dictators he admires like Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
What is ironic is the message of his statement because the truth is: Trump has been spearheading the attacks against journalists and has been fanning the flame of doubt and hate against the free press.
During the campaign and especially after he was sworn into office, Trump has demonized the news media (except Fox News) as the “number one enemy of the American people,” vilified them as “fake news” for reporting the truth and facts which do not serve Trump’s self-serving narcissistic of himself and his presidency.
Many reporters have reportedly been verbally attacked by Trump supporters as a result, emboldened by Trump’s accusations and suggestions against news media, including liking a video on Twitter showing him attacking a man whose face was covered by a label “CNN.”
As the Washington Post reported, the far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos had sent out a message to reporters on Tuesday saying, ‘’I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”
Trump’s rhetoric — demonizing immigrants, people of color, the Muslims, the press, his critics among the Republican Party, President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party, justices who do not support his agenda, the U.S. intelligence community, our allies in the international community, the United Nations, the members of the LGBTQ community, etc — has emboldened a lot of his fan base to act on the seeds of hate he has been planting in their consciousness.
Hate crimes have risen dramatically since the 2016 election and continue to be on the rise since Trump became president. This climate has been the backdrop of this newsroom attack in Maryland.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution mandates that “Congress shall make no law….abridging (limiting) the freedom of speech, or of the press…”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this constitutional mandate “is also an essential contributor to the American belief in government confined by a system of checks and balances, operating as a restraint on tyranny, corruption and ineptitude. For much of the world’s history, governments, following the impulse described by Justice Holmes, have presumed to play the role of benevolent but firm censor, on the theory that the wise governance of men proceeds from the wise governance of their opinions. But the United States was founded on the more cantankerous revolutionary principles of John Locke, who taught that under the social compact sovereignty always rests with the people, who never surrender their natural right to protest, or even revolt, when the state exceeds the limits of legitimate authority. Speech is thus a means of ‘people-power,’ through which the people may ferret out corruption and discourage tyrannical excesses.”
Trump should know and understand what Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote in the decision of the landmark case New York Times Co. v. United States (1971): “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”
The freedom of the press, protected by the First Amendment, is critical to a democracy in which the government is accountable to the people.
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Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com, https://www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos