Former President Donald Trump branded the news media the “enemy of the people” on dozens of occasions during his time in office, whether to castigate a journalist on Twitter for unfavorable press coverage or to incite chants of “CNN sucks” at campaign rallies. The phrase “enemy of the people” has been historically used by autocrats across all eras, from the Roman Empire to Germany’s Third Reich to the Soviet Union. Trump brought this derogatory label and its ugly history to the presidency. He not only used it regularly but infected our national discourse with it, leading tens of thousands of Americans to act upon his words.
On the tame end of the spectrum, action against this supposed “enemy” often involved boycotting certain news organizations deemed unsympathetic toward Trump. From there it escalated to online harassment, with relentless bullying that targeted individual writers and editors whose words were smeared before they were even read. The most extreme response was to enact violence on people in the news media, which is exactly what occurred at the Capitol Hill riots on January 6.
“Murder the Media” was etched into a door of the Capitol. TV crews were chased out as they tried to capture this egregious, yet historic moment in our nation’s history. Beyond enduring verbal abuse and threats, a CBS reporter received a grim warning from protesters that law enforcement wouldn’t protect journalists — they were on their own and surrounded by belligerent Trump supporters.
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But the most heartbreaking part is that the rioters were right. The police weren’t kind to members of the news media either. A video journalist for the Washington Post and her colleague were detained by police for filming the riots after the 6 p.m. curfew. Outside Washington, in Vancouver, Canada, a photographer was punched in the face at a small rally of Trump supporters.