Anti-journalism “smears, lies and death threats” are on the rise, says CNN’s Brian Stelter, who devoted, for the second consecutive week, a segment of his Reliable Sources Sunday chat show to issues surrounding President Donald Trump’s ongoing attacks against the news organization.
“These people, these trolls, they’re media-illiterate,” Stelter said of anonymous online commenters who harass reporters and trash the press as fake news with ties to ISIS. “They don’t really know how newsrooms work.”
Stelter and his panel of guests, including Daily Beast editor John Avlon, USA Today‘s Kirsten Powers and Ben Jacobs, the Guardian reporter body-slammed by then-GOP candidate (now Montana congressman) Greg Gianforte, said such online threats against journalists have soared since Trump took office.
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(Watch a clip of the Reliable Sources discussion below.)
“There’s no comparison,” said Powers, explaining that while she’s long been accustomed to readers’ criticism, she’s “never had anyone threaten to, and actually post, my address until now.”
“I’ve been doing this for quite some time and I’ve gotten a lot of hate mail,” Powers said. “I’ve had a lot of people upset with a lot of things I’ve said, but I’ve never had people saying ‘I’m going to find out your parents’ address, I’m going to harass your family’…Something is definitely very different.”
Stelter concurred, noting similar experiences at CNN, “partly because of attacks by the president and his allies.”
The most recent salvo came yesterday, when Donald Trump Jr. retweeted a doctored Top Gun meme in which his father shoots down a plane marked with the CNN logo. “One of the best I’ve seen,” Trump Jr. wrote, a message accompanied by laughing and flag emojis. (The retweet was posted hours before The New York Times’ published a big story about Trump Jr.’s undisclosed meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian attorney during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.)
When Stelter played devil’s advocate by telling Avlon that such memes are merely jokes, the Daily Beast pundit said, “The problem is when you have the responsibility of being a president, your ability to tweet out jokes about physically harming a free press is curtailed by common decency if not common sense.”
The Top Gun GIFF was the second of its type sent from a Trump this month. Two days before the Fourth of July, the president retweeted the now-infamous clip of himself body-slamming WWE’s Vince McMahon in a staged appearance at Wrestlemania XXIII in 2007 — with a CNN logo superimposed over McMahon’s face.
That incident drew even more internet chatter after CNN said it would not out the identity of the Reddit user who originated the doctored wrestling video – a user with an online history of anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic posts – but reserved the right to do so later.
That decision drew online accusations that CNN was blackmailing the user, who many defenders falsely claimed was 15 years old (the Redditor is actually a middle-aged man).
The CNN Blackmail hashtaggers, said Avlon, were “a social media mob frenzy” and “part of a larger pattern” of the bot-assisted “social media swarm tactics” in which attackers play victim. “The overall game is designed to make civic debate indecent so that good people retreat because they don’t see it as worthwhile.”
Jacobs, the Guardian reporter knocked to the ground by Gianforte, described recent events as “a growing atmosphere of hate and disdain towards journalists.” Jacobs’ eyeglasses, broken in the fracas, have been donated to the press-centric Newseum in Washington, D.C.
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