There's no excuse for the way Trump celebrates and encourages violence against reporters.
Trump's latest incitement of violence against the press — even as his administration gives the Saudi government cover for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — was so appalling, even his fans at Fox News are having trouble defending it.
At a rally on Thursday night, Trump praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) for having physically assaulted a reporter just prior to the special election that sent him to Congress.
Trump even acted out the assault onstage — and pointed to journalists in the crowd while fondly recalling how Gianforte had "body slammed a reporter."
"We had trouble finding sound of anybody defending the president on this," host Howard Kurtz said on Sunday morning's edition of "Mediabuzz" on Fox News.
Kurtz then asked his panel if it was fair for the media to "lambaste" Trump for praising Gianforte's assault.
Emily Jashinsky, editor at the pro-Trump outlet The Federalist, tried to claim that "Trump was joking here."
But even she was forced to admit that the incident supports the idea that Trump incites violence against the press.
"I've defended him on different occasions when people have tried to tie him, and say his rhetoric is inciting legitimate real violence," she said "I'd never agreed with that — but when you make a comment like this, that argument does get harder to make."
Kurtz correctly pointed out that Trump wasn't joking, and that "in a follow-up interview, [Trump] didn't say, 'Hey, I was just joking.' He said, 'I stand by the comments, and I think he's a tough cookie.'"
Kurtz then asked Fox News contributor and longtime Democratic operative Mo Elleithee if it's fair to tie Trump's praise for Gianforte to his shameful downplaying of Khashoggi's murder.
"I do think it is fair to point to the fact that there is an uptick to violence against journalists around the world, and [it] could be seen by some as license to do so when the president of the United State is absolving those who commit violence against journalists," Elleithee said.
The Fox panel's criticism of Trump was relatively mild, given the circumstances. Trump has a long history of using hateful or even violent rhetoric against the free press, and his performance Thursday brought that history to a crescendo.
Trump didn't just "absolve" Gianforte of his assault; he explicitly praised it. And he did so even after he spent the week parroting the Saudis' absurd denials of their involvement in Khashoggi's murder. Trump promoted the Saudi lie that the murder might have been the work of "rogue killers," and complained that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was being falsely accused.
On Friday, Trump was specifically asked if he regretted bringing up "the assault on a reporter by a congressman" while the investigation of Khashoggi's murder is still underway.
"No. Not at all. Not at all," Trump replied, adding that Gianforte is a "tremendous person. And he’s a tough cookie."
Trump praises physical violence against journalists, and makes excuses for people who brutally murder journalists. None of this is acceptable, and it only encourages future attacks on the free press. Not even Trump's biggest partisan fans can escape that truth.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.