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Opinion Man in MAGA hat attacks journalist at El Paso rally

A BBC journalist was attacked at a Trump rally in El Paso on Feb. 11. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

In a recent sit-down with President Trump, New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger cited the global “consequences” of the president’s attacks on the media. “We’ve seen, around the world, an unprecedented rise in attacks on journalists, threats to journalists,” said the publisher. He appeared to have gotten the attention of Trump. “Would you say more so now than over the last five years?” asked Trump.

Affirmative, came the response from Sulzberger.

Now Trump needn’t take the word of some East Coast elite for the problem. At a rally on Monday night at the El Paso County Coliseum, Trump was talking about low unemployment rates when a ruckus emerged from the crowd. It was an attack on the media — not a rhetorical attack from the lectern, which is the usual format at these events. It was a physical attack, from a man wearing a MAGA hat.

Eleanor Montague, Washington news editor for the BBC, reported that her colleague, Ron Skeans, was on the wrong end of the attack:

According to the BBC, the man shoved Skeans, as well as other news crews in the vicinity. And as the video above makes clear, he added some rhetoric of his own to the affair. “F--- the media,” he screamed as another man restrained him. As for Skeans, he told his own outlet that the assailant gave him a “very hard shove.” He didn’t see it coming, either: “I didn’t know what was going on.”

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Physical attacks on media members at Trump rallies were merely a matter of time. Reporters have long noted the hostility that descends on them from the Trump faithful, who hear Trump’s relentless depictions of the media as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.” The verbal abuse heaped on journalists has been well documented. Last summer, for instance, CNN’s Jim Acosta heard it from Trump supporters at a rally. “They’re saying things like, ‘CNN sucks,’ ‘Go home’ and ‘fake news,'" said Acosta in a report from a Tampa event in July. And at a 2018 rally in Montana, Trump celebrated the assault — body-slam, actually — of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs in May 2017 by then-congressional candidate Greg Gianforte of Montana. “My guy,” said Trump of Gianforte, a Republican. “Any guy that can do a body slam,” said the president. He even mimicked the act of body-slamming, just for the crowd’s pleasure.

So what is a Trump supporter to think? Why not approach the media area and start assaulting journalists?

On Monday night, Trump exchanged “thumbs up” gestures with the assaulted cameraman before proceeding with his remarks. “You all right? Everything okay?” he asked. At that very moment, he could have proclaimed that violence of any sort — against the media, against anyone — is unacceptable. Instead, he talked about his accomplishments.

Later in the rally, he attacked the media for its fact-checks of his claims about El Paso. In his State of the Union address, Trump claimed that the construction of a border barrier helped El Paso. “The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” said the president. “Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.” Fact-checkers brutalized that contention, noting: “The city had the third-lowest violent crime rate among 35 U.S. cities with a population over 500,000 in 2005, 2006 and 2007 — before construction of a 57-mile-long fence started in mid-2008."

The plume of El Paso-related fact-checking has burned Trump, as he made clear at his rally. “I heard the same thing from the fake news,” said Trump, helpfully waving to the area where the media was assembled. “They said, ‘Oh, crime actually stayed the same.’ It didn’t stay the same. It went way down. And look at what they did to their past crimes, and look at how they recorded those past crimes. It went way, way down. These people — you know you’d think they’d want to get to the bottom of a problem and solve a problem — not try and pull the wool over everybody’s eyes,” said the president to his Gaslight Village. “So for those few people that are out there on television saying, ‘Oh, it didn’t make too much of a difference.' It made a tremen — People from El Paso: Am I right?”

Cheers ensued.

“It’s fake news,” he said.

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