Fiery rhetoric fueling violence, some say
Is Donald Trump waging a “war on the media”? It almost seems like an absurd notion, given that the real estate developer-turned-reality TV star owes his fame, in large part, to the media whose attention he seems to constantly invite.
And yet, as the anger behind Donald Trump’s campaign has come to a boil, reporters sometimes have become the target. On Friday night, as the Republican front-runner canceled a Chicago campaign rally due to thousands of protesters, a CBS News reporter says he was filming a man who was bloody, laying on the ground, when he was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested.
That’s not the only incident.
Earlier Friday, a young female reporter for a conservative news website, Breitbart, filed a police report accusing Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, of physically assaulting her at a Trump press event. Police in Jupiter, Florida, near where the alleged incident occurred, said Friday they are investigating the complaint.
About a week earlier, a TIME photographer Chris Morris said a member of Trump’s secret service team of placing him in a chokehold after Morris ventured to step outside the designated press area at a rally.
In fact, violent acts seem to have become commonplace at Trump’s rallies around the country; various protesters have reported being manhandled by Trump supporters, one of whom is actually facing criminal assault charges of his own after being caught on tape sucker-punching a protester at an event in North Carolina earlier this week.
And some point to Trump’s bellicose rhetoric as fanning the flames. Trump often claims he doesn’t see any violent acts and that he wouldn’t condone them if he did, but he also told a crowd in Las Vegas last month that he missed the “good old days” when a protester would be “carried out on a stretcher,” before declaring to his rabid fanbase that he’d “like to punch [a protester] in the face.”
Trump has been openly disdainful of news media, telling the crowd at one of his massive rallies, “I would never kill [journalists] but I do hate them.” At those rallies, he’s called the media “dishonest” and “scum,” relegating the press to fenced-off pens. Trump has also railed against journalists who ask questions he finds irksome, such as Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and Univision’s Jorge Ramos. And let’s not forget Trump mocking the physical disability of a New York Times reporter.
“He’s certainly campaigning against the press and he’s using the press as a talking point to rile people up,” says Roy Gutterman, the director of Syracuse University’s Tully Center for Free Speech.
To be sure, the GOP frontrunner is not the first politician to chafe at reporters’ questions or try to control press coverage. Trump, however, seems to be a special case, particularly in modern times (remember, John Adams’ Sedition Act once restricted any speech that was critical of the government). Trump has claimed that he would “open up our libel laws so when [media publications] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” (As Fortune has noted in the past, that campaign promise is likely mostly bluster.)
Still, there is a concern that Trump’s rhetoric — on a wide variety of topics– is encouraging something deeper, uglier and threatening. Even before the Chicago rally’s violence, the White House Correspondents’ Association president Carol Lee (a Wall Street Journal reporter) issued a statement expressing concern that “some of the rhetoric aimed at reporters covering the presidential race” and urged presidential candidates to “conduct their campaigns in a manner that respects the robust back-and-forth between politicians and the press that is critical to a thriving democracy.”
Of course, Trump’s distaste for the news media is particularly ironic considering how his campaign has fed off of free media coverage that, in turn, has resulted in record ratings for a number of cable news channels—creating something of a symbiotic, but dysfunctional, relationship. In other words, Trump may “hate” the media, but can he really live without it?
Fortune reached out to the Trump campaign for comment and will update this article with any response. But early Saturday, Trump tweeted his views on the Chicago rally protests, blaming “thugs” and claiming his First Amendment rights were violated.