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Just before Republican candidate Greg Gianforte body slammed the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs this week, he made his motives crystal clear: “I’m sick and tired of you guys. Get the hell out of here.”
He grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands, threw him to the ground and punched him.
The assault was shocking in several ways. Just the simple fact of an American politician attacking a reporter. In public. In front of witnesses, including other reporters. And not some random nut punking an election campaign. Gianforte is a billionaire tech CEO, a former candidate for governor of Montana in the final stretch of his race for Congress.
But the assault was utterly unsurprising considering Trump's vitriol and hostility building against the media.
Gianforte wanted to stop a reporter asking questions. That’s not a new motivation. Lots of rich and powerful people would prefer to avoid scrutiny. What’s new is the ferocious, sustained campaign against the fifth estate.
Trump’s open war against the press and efforts to whip his base into frenzied hatred of the media have created an explosive environment. It was probably just a matter of time before a Republican die-hard went postal on a reporter.
It’s what we expect from governments run by thugs. The thuggery Trump has been directing at journalists is profoundly undemocratic and very obviously dangerous.
We’ve gotten to the point where hostility and even rage towards reporters is entirely normalized among large segments of the population.
And Trump’s Canadian fans are stoking the same fires. Kellie Leitch rails against the “elites” and “left-wing media.” Conservative leadership hopefuls pull their chairs right up to the smorgasbord of adolescent bigotry at Rebel Media.
National Post founder, Conrad Black, beats the war drums of Trumpism in more erudite fashion: “the media, by their malice and dishonesty, are, as Trump called them, ‘enemies of the people.’”
We often get reader feedback, asking us not to talk about Trump. You hear about him everywhere and you don’t need to hear it again on National Observer. We feel you. However....
Trump’s viciousness is like climate change. It affects the whole world, and the storm of hate that made it possible for a billionaire like Gianforte to stomp on a journalist comes directly from the Bully in Chief.
You know as well as we do that journalists are not enemies of the people. We all know journalists like Ben Jacob provide an ongoing way for ordinary people to get a window into the mechanics of power.
Some would like that window to close. In the words of the late Leonard Cohen, "And everybody knows."