In a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police last October, President Donald Trump’s first applause line came at the expense of the news reporters gathered in the back of Chicago’s convention hall.
“You don’t hear it enough: you do an incredible job. The people in this country know it, and the people of this country love you,” he said to the police present, and then pointed a finger at the back of the room. “You don’t hear that from these people back here, but they [the public] love you. You don’t hear it from the fake news. The fake news doesn’t like talking about that.”
Trump’s anti-media rhetoric has thrown fuel on long-standing police resentment against the news media, which he has repeatedly defined as an “enemy of the people.” Police attacks on journalists covering demonstrations over the police slaying of George Floyd have so proliferated that it’s become obvious some officers are acting on Trump’s hints that it is okay to take the law into their own hands. He admires officers who cross the line, as he indicated elsewhere in his Chicago speech as he recounted a conversation with a local police officer about the city’s high murder rate:
I said, “You’re a tough guy. How long do you think it would take you to fix this killing problem in Chicago?” He looked at me, he said, “One day, sir. These cops are great. They know all the bad guys, sir. They know exactly what to do. We could straighten it out so quickly that your head would spin.” I left very impressed.
Trump’s comments were aimed at undermining Chicago’s police superintendent at the time, Eddie Johnson: the president was not so subtly encouraging police officers to flout his authority. Trump has many times encouraged extra-legal violence, including against reporters. For example, he praised Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte of Montana for assaulting a Guardian reporter (Gianforte’s non-custodial sentence included twenty hours of anger-management training). He lamented to Breitbart that the “tough people” who he said support him—police, soldiers, bikers—“they don’t play it tough.” That is, “until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very, very bad.” Now some police and demonstrators are acting on their own antipathy for the news media.
The attacks against reporters are amply documented by the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, starting with the arrest of Omar Jimenez and two other CNN journalists on camera even after they offered to comply with a Minneapolis police order to move. Others have been shot with rubber bullets, tear-gassed, and pepper-sprayed, just in Minneapolis. Nationally, dozens of other incidents have been reported.
The news media’s relations with law enforcement have always been complicated, veering between glorification and vilification. By nature of their work, police officers tend to circle the wagons against outsiders, and reporters have always had to overcome that to cover crime, a news staple.