By Scott Powers
Donald Trump’s war on the media is getting out of hand — and it’s time the media started fighting back.
I’m sure Trump and his supporters would argue that the media already is fighting, and even started the whole thing. He doesn’t like the things reported about him. Every chance he gets he complains that they’re lies, and that the media are dishonest. He’s even got staff now dedicated to promoting that message on a daily basis.
It may be that Trump just can’t stand solid, accurate reporting about him. Or it may be that some, maybe many, maybe too many media are running with the silliest crap they can grab on him. And yeah, if that happens day-in and day-out, it can look like all the media are out to get him.
I’m going to leave that for historians to sort out. I don’t give a damn at this point.
One of the things that Trump does, though, is bully specific members of the media — most of them people he’s never met or read — in direct, hostile, daily barrages at his rallies, in front of big crowds of angry people.
I’ve been to three Trump rallies this year: one at the University of Central Florida in the winter, one at Daytona Beach last week, and one in Kissimmee Thursday night. In all three, he turned the crowd’s attention to the reporters and photographers penned into the media area and lobbed ugly insults, knowing we cannot respond. Several times per speech.
All the journalists covering his speech can do is sit there or stand there and quietly take it. Well, I for one don’t quite just take it. I tip my hat, smile and nod my head. Yep, folks, he’s talking about me. Here I am.
I assume Trump has done this at every rally in between the ones I’ve covered, and perhaps at every rally he’s ever had. I assume the traveling press has witnessed this so many times they can mouth the insults as Trump speaks them. I can only address he three rallies I covered.
Every journalist you’ll ever meet, to a man or a woman, will tell you that’s OK. We’re professionals. Our jobs during speeches is to listen and observe and report, and otherwise act like furniture. We’re tough. We’re thick skinned. We can take whatever you throw at us.
More importantly — and this is almost universally true — we’re literally not allowed to respond. And Trump knows this. For one, it’s unethical. For another, most editors or producers would be furious if a field journalist responded. It’s just not done. Nor is is done that the media itself would ever respond. That’s not what media do. And they certainly haven’t.
Well, I’m breaking ranks. And I’m calling on my brothers and sisters in the press to stop taking it.
It’s not a stretch to say that last week in Daytona and Thursday night in Kissimmee, Trump and his surrogates were literally inciting mobs against the media.
Picture this if you will: 50 to 100 journalists, photographers standing with their tripods on a riser, writers sitting at long tables in front of computers, all penned in by barricades, surrounded by 8,000 to 10,000 people who desperately want to believe every word Trump says.
Trump and several of his warm-up acts each call everyone’s attention to the media pen, then call us liars, dishonest, cheaters. Scream it. Over and over. Not casually or with humor, but with calculated and malicious anger.
In Daytona, the Rev. Webster Barnaby declared the men and women behind the barricades were vipers, who hated America, and “had the stench of evil.”
In his invocation prayer, Pastor Webster said that.
In Kissimmee, another so-called man of Jesus, the Rev. Mark Burns, a regular warm-up act on Trump tours, didn’t just lay into the media huddled behind the barricades, he invited the crowd to join in the fun.
“They’re here today! Why don’t you tell them how you feel! Tell them how you REALLY feel!” Burns screamed to the crowd.
And they did: thousands of people turned toward the media pen, stood, shook fists, raised middle fingers and shouted things like “Liars!” “Tell the truth!” and “Assholes!”
I, of course, tipped my hat, smiled and nodded my head. I tried to look some of the screamers straight in the eye where I could. I could see one man flipping us off make eye contact, and when he saw me tip my hat right at him, he looked like he turned an extra shade of mad. In another setting, he’d have rushed me. I have no doubt.
Particularly disappointing is Republican National Committee Co-Chair Sharon Day, who’s got one of the most important political jobs in America, yet can’t resist treating the men and women in the media pen like caged prisoners on display in a 17th-century town square. Come spit on us, Sharon. Get it out of your system.
Really, this is OK with everybody?
Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski got in trouble for bumping a reporter. Now that was a joke, news-wise. A bump? Really? I strongly fear that one of these days, after one of these rallies, that guy who flipped me the bird and some of his friends, or a bunch of guys just like him elsewhere, will jump a member of the press in an isolated corner of the parking lot and beat the crap out of him.
There comes a time when trying to not be the story, as most journalists are trained and instructed, becomes missing the story.
When it reaches this level, journalists who continue to ignore such vulgar behavior by a presidential candidate and his surrogates, just because it’s aimed at them, they’re not being professionals.
They’re being pussies, letting the bullies get away with whatever they want.
Scott Powers was a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel for 15 years, covering government, business and NASA, and before that reported for the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, and Prior to that, he spent 19 years reporting for The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, and smaller newspapers in Ohio and Texas.