First, it was the term “fake news” that the media felt was a “threat to our democracy.”
Now, it’s Trump’s references to the “enemy of the people” that has driven the press corps into paroxysms of exaggerated fear. The situation is supposedly so dire that A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, asked for a meeting to express his grave concerns about Trump’s “increasingly dangerous” language.
Sulzberger claimed he told Trump that the president’s rhetoric “was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.” He also said that Trump’s language was “not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.”
The sanctimony is hard to take seriously. It also fits a consistent pattern of media solipsism.
The greatest danger facing mainstream journalists in this country is irrelevancy.
There is no credible threat to members of the press corps today because of anything Trump has said or done. While Trump’s cabinet members are routinely heckled and threatened in public, and plenty of Trump supporters have been assaulted for having the temerity to wear a “MAGA” hat, political journalists can strut around D.C. and the rest of the country with much less risk.
In the era of Trump, journalism simply isn’t a dangerous job, and it hasn’t been for decades. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a total of 11 journalists have been killed in America since 1992, and only three of those were tied to the danger of an assignment. Taxi drivers, by comparison, deal with a great deal more risk than journalists do, both in aggregate deaths and per capita. They suffered 60 fatalities on the job in 2017 alone.
There have only been two instances of multiple journalist fatalities in America in almost 30 years. The Capital Gazette shooting that killed five people earlier this year was a tragedy, but a statistically aberrant one, and the murderer was a lunatic with a personal grudge. Trump’s rhetoric had nothing to do with it.
Perhaps aware of these numerical realities at home, some in the press corps have taken to blaming Trump for the excesses of regimes abroad. His words, they say, are fueling the tyrants overseas. This attempt to tie the president of the United States to the actions of actual totalitarian states is patently ridiculous. How can any serious person think that Trump is in any way responsible for the actions of Erdogan in Turkey, or Putin in Russia? Do they think that journalists in the era of Obama were any better off in those places?
Holding Trump’s words accountable for the deeds of other world leaders is preposterous. It is motivated much more by anti-Trump sentiment among a press corps with more than its share of #resistance sentiment than realistic concern about a looming crackdown on the First Amendment. There is not one policy issue or executive action that the president has taken to give any credence to this fear mongering over freedom of the press.
Starting around the fall of 2016, the press corps as a whole took up the mantle of aggrieved, embattled guardians of truth. They have deployed the phrase “threat to our democracy” so much to generate outrage at Trump that the public has become numb to the words. All of this has been done to uphold a narrative, one that draws heavily on the ideological alignment of the mainstream media with the Democratic Party.
The press has fallen victim to a delusion of its own creation. Trump as an authoritarian who crushes free speech is a laughable inversion of reality. A vast majority of America’s political media apparatus isn’t just oppositional to Trump — they have become activists who seek to end his presidency by any means they can.
It is quite a strange authoritarian who abides not only criticism from the press, but an obvious desire to see him and his immediate family ruined, or even incarcerated. The desperation of the press to see themselves as victims of Trump’s imminent tyranny feels like an attempt to justify their own political maneuvering.
But the legion of aggrieved columnists, reporters, and news anchors are going to have to get used to the fact that the president has free speech too. Gone are the days when a White House reporter or Sunday roundtable host can tweet snark about the commander-in-chief in the morning and expect to be treated like nonpartisan journos in the afternoon. Trump is on to them. Increasingly, so are the American people.
And if the national political media want to be taken seriously in any context, they need to stop hyperventilating over every mundane presidential slight.
Barring one reporter from one network from one White House event is not the precursor to Stalin’s purges.
Journalists are not in jeopardy in America. The public’s respect for them is.
Buck Sexton (@BuckSexton) is a former CIA officer in the Counterterrorism Center. He is the host of "The Buck Sexton Show” on radio and co-host of The Hill TV's "Rising." He is a frequent guest on Fox News Channel and CNN, and he has been a guest radio show host for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.