Trump’s journalism rhetoric is no laughing matter

December 22, 2015

Near the beginning of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rallies, he likes to call attention to a small penned-off area in the middle of the room to which we journalists are relegated.

Then, with everybody looking at us, he complains about the media. It’s a part of his stump speech, and three months ago it resulted in harmless boos and jeers from a crowd thousands strong, but Monday night in Grand Rapids, Michigan the exercise took a sinister turn when, briefly but unmistakably, the audience cheered at the idea that journalists ought to be killed,  a suggestion from within the crowd.

Here’s what happened: Trump brought up Putin, who said last week he welcomed warm relations with the Republican front-runner.

“He said nice things,” Trump said. “All of a sudden I’m hearing things like ‘Oh isn’t it terrible that Putin’s saying n—’. That’s not terrible, that’s good! That’s like a good thing not a bad thing. He can’t stand Obama, Obama can’t stand him, they’re always fighting, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along with, like, people?”

Cheers came from the crowd. Trump went on:

“Then they said, you know, he’s killed reporters, and I don’t like that. I’m totally against that. By the way I hate some of these people” – he pointed at the group of us journalists – “but I’d never kill them.”

Laughter ensued, and that was when someone called out that journalists should be killed. It wasn’t Trump, of course; it was just one person among 9,000. The video feed that was broadcast didn’t pick it up. But plenty of us heard it, and we heard how others nearby responded: They seemed to like the idea. A cheer grew, louder and louder, as we reporters continued to scribble in our notebooks.

“I would never do that,” Trump said, smiling. (You can watch it for yourself here and hear the crowd cheering but the original audience member’s rallying cry isn’t discernible).

He continued, pretending to toy for a moment with the idea of killing one or two after all:

“Ah…let’s see…meeeeh— no, I wouldn’t. I would never kill them. But I do hate them, some of them are such lying, disgusting people, it’s true. It’s true. But I would never kill them and anybody that does I think would be despicable.”

During this period of half a minute, I became aware that I was sitting in a room full of people cheering about the idea of my death, or the death of someone in my profession. My face grew warm, my heart fluttered with fear, but I tried to show nothing, to just keep watching, keep listening, and stay alert.

Trump, meanwhile, continued and almost in the same breath added: “But you know nobody said: ‘They say he killed reporters.’ I said ‘really’? He says he didn’t, other people say he didn’t, who did he kill? Well we don’t know but we hear that.”

So after praising Putin, and, with a vaudevillian show of charity, dismissing the idea of killing journalists, Trump concluded the “media commentary” portion of the evening by questioning the legitimacy of serious claims of oppression and violence against journalists in Russia.

(You can read about the 56 journalists killed in Russia since 1992 here via the Committee to Protect Journalists)

Over the span of two minutes, he had primed the crowd, focused its hostility and given its members a generous license to disdain, to disrespect, even to hate. His ribbing no longer felt harmless. It felt like a warning to those of us planning to spend our evenings these next two months fenced off in and highly visible in the middle of a Donald Trump rally.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, December 21, 2015. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

8 comments

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“…had primed the crowd, focused its hostility and given its members a generous license to disdain, to disrespect, even to hate. His ribbing no longer felt harmless. It felt like a warning …”

Ms.Flitter, my hope is that you will not fritter away this opportunity to understand how the media does exactly the same thing.

Posted by aeci | Report as abusive

Is Trump trying to ridicule his supporters? I often think he is an exercise in political camp. He could easily distance himself, and often does, from anything he says and blame his following for their stupidity and gullibility.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

How well GOP voters have been taught by right-wing media to distrust other messengers (“liberal” media) unless the message confirms the conservative world view. It appears however, right-wing media is reaping what’s been sown in the past few decades: the majority of GOP voters are following the false and offensive bully Trump who doesn’t have a chance in the general election. Trump brings out the worst in his followers, exemplified by their eagerness to intimidate journalists, and their behavior is an embarrassment to all fair-minded and civil Americans.

Posted by distancematters | Report as abusive

Reminds me of when GW Bush’s appearances in “public” became 90% military audiences. With forced applause, and punishment for speaking out. Then he could point to the audience and say, “see they love me.”

Very Putin, very trump, very republican.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

The majority of what comes out of this losers mouth is ‘no laughing matter’. What’s scary is he has a yuuuge audience for his hate speak and fear mongering.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Trump is a Hillary supporter. He’s a fake candidate, doing Hillary a favor.

1) It’s working. Half the republicans like his bigoted rants. But half the republicans are not enough to put a person in the White House. Hillary will win the Presidency due to this stunt.

2) It’s perfectly legal. There is no law against one party planting a ridiculous candidate into another party’s primary. GOP voters should have known better than to vote for him. But they don’t. Haha.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

I don’t believe Trump’s against professional journalists. I believe he (and many folks)are against the media moguls, their editorial boards, and political pundits who determine all the opinions pushed on the pubic.

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

Why hasn’t the Epstein case brought down Hillary?

The Jeffrey Epstein Affair Imperils Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Prospects http://observer.com/2015/03/the-jeffrey- epstein-affair-imperils-hillary-clintons -presidential-prospects/

Posted by Yvo_Kerwar | Report as abusive