In characteristically rambling remarks at an event Monday in South Carolina, President Trump didn’t disappoint his audience. If Trump is holding a rally, there is an unspecific, pointless and dangerous attack on the media. Boasting of his relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Trump said that anti-U.S. signage has come down in that country amid his diplomatic offensive. “All over North Korea, they’re down, they took ’em down. Anti-U.S. signs,” said the president. At that point, an association appeared to click in the head of the U.S. president: “Like I put up anti-media signs all over the place,” he added. Some in the audience reacted with boos to express disdain for the media.
“You’re worse than I am,” said Trump, perhaps a bit surprised at how deeply his media attacks had taken root.
The observation appeared jocular by Trump standards, though CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta on Tuesday afternoon furnished some evidence that the situation is a bit more grave. “Get the f— out of here,” said one rally attendee to Acosta, as he describes in an article published on Tuesday afternoon. “Out of here. Out. Out. Out. Out.” More:
As she screamed at me, she was waving a campaign sign for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who would later share the stage with Trump to receive his endorsement for another four years in office. The hundreds of people in the crowd roared with approval.
I tried to shake her hand but she refused.
“No,” she said. “Out. Out. Out.”
“Ma’am I have every right to be here,” I reminded her.
“Out. Out. Out,” she continued. “You are scum. Get out of here.”
Acosta stayed. Other interactions with the Trump faithful, he wrote, weren’t as bitter. There were selfies, moments of comity and even apologies for some of the anti-media sentiment directed at Acosta. One part, however, stuck with the Erik Wemple Blog. Another woman, wrote Acosta, approached him with some specific complaints. “What’s going to happen is we’re going to end up with a civil war. You’re going to have people shooting people,” she warned. “You need to tone it down a little bit. The language, everything. It’s gotta stop. Be decent, please be decent. Don’t ask any more stupid questions.”
But the problem here isn’t Acosta’s questions, which are generally topical, short, straightforward and relentless; it’s the Trump administration’s attitude toward accountability. Just look at how the press office of the Environmental Protection Agency handles inquiries. Or look at how often press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has sought to diminish her interlocutors. Earlier this month, for example, Acosta pressed her on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s attempt to justify the practice of separating children and families at the border by citing the Bible. In response, Sanders expressed a lack of familiarity with Sessions’s remarks and said, “I know it’s hard for you to understand even short sentences.”
That, from the woman who insisted over the weekend that she tries her best to treat people with respect.
Maybe she fell short in this instance.
We know from study after study that Republicans are expressing less and less trust in media organizations. Trump has taken credit for that trend in the past, as well he should. The research doesn’t tell us just how many people out there bear a disdain for the sort of interrogation that Acosta brings to the White House briefing room and various ceremonial events where the president entertains questions. What we do know, however, is that Sean Hannity is blowing out CNN in the ratings. And when he gets together with the president, his questions tend toward the tell-us-how-great-you-are variety. When Trump’s all done, how many people will he have removed from the audience for actual journalism?