Joseph Sabino Mistick: Trump's attacks on press an assault on our freedoms
That old cliché about politics making strange bedfellows acquired new life last week, thanks to Karl Rove. Rove was President George W. Bush’s closest political adviser in 2008, when he explained Bush’s attitude toward the media in Ken Auletta’s article in The New Yorker.
“He understands their job is to do a job. And that’s not necessarily to report the news. It’s to get a headline or get a story that will make people pay attention to their magazine, newspaper or television more,” Rove said.
That was cynical talk back then, but it is bean-bag compared to current White House attacks on the media. Donald Trump incites his supporters every day by calling the press the “enemy of the people.”
Trump did not invent that phrase, but it is dangerous talk that goes back to the time of Roman Emperor Nero. During the French Revolution, Reign of Terror leader Robespierre said that the government “owes nothing to the enemies of the people but death.” The Nazis called Jews “enemies of the people” in order to justify their expulsion and extermination.
Joseph Stalin described media critics as “enemies of the people” when he launched a campaign of forced labor and mass killings. Stalin destroyed the free press, and Rove said that “grates” on him.
“I grew up during the time of the Cold War and that is a phrase that was used by Stalin against the enemies of the Communist regime,” Rove told Fox News. “I think the president would be well advised to tone down the rhetoric.”
Our Constitution, and especially the Bill of Rights, is a barrier that protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority, and even the majority from the tyranny of a demagogue. Some Americans have always been easily fooled into thinking that they are true patriots, even as they attack the institutions and traditions that are responsible for American greatness.
Luckily, the Constitution has endured. And now, others have begun to push back against Trump’s assaults on our constitutional guarantee of a free press.
Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham told reporters that “sometimes you can be a pain in the ass, but you’re not the enemy of the people.” Graham’s remarks evoked a “whistling past the graveyard” sort of chuckle, but this is deadly serious.
A recent C-SPAN caller targeted CNN’s Brian Stetler and Don Lemon for violence. “They started the war. I see them, I’m going to shoot them,” he said.
MSNBC’s Katy Tur says that these threats are commonplace. “And in case you want to argue that this has nothing to do with the president, the most recent note I got ended with ‘MAGA.’”
New York Times conservative columnist Brett Stephens quoted a recent threatening phone message in an August column: “You’re worthless, the press is the enemy of the United States people and, you know what, rather than me shoot you, I hope a Mexican and, even better yet, I hope a n— shoots you in the head, dead.”
As Stephens warned, “We are approaching a day when blood on the newsroom floor will be blood on the president’s hands.”
And in response to all this, Trump has doubled down.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.