Bret Stephens, a conservative opinion writer for the New York Times, delivered an ominous warning Friday about President Donald Trump’s escalating attacks on the press.
“We are approaching a day when blood on the newsroom floor will be blood on the president’s hands,” Stephens wrote.
It may sound like an extreme conclusion, but Trump’s rhetoric itself is extreme. Thursday night at a rally in Pennsylvania, the president called the press “horrible, horrendous people.” And he frequently calls the media “the enemy of the people,” even after five reporters were killed in Maryland in June by someone who didn’t like what they wrote.
Stephens shared that he’s experienced threats of violence himself. He recently received the following voicemail message:
I don’t carry an AR but once we start shooting you f—ers you aren’t going to pop off like you do now. You’re worthless, the press is the enemy of the United States people and, you know what, rather than me shoot you, I hope a Mexican and, even better yet, I hope a n— shoots you in the head, dead.
But it’s not just the combination of the Trump’s extremist rhetoric and real-world violent threats — which MSNBC’s Katy Tur revealed she has also experienced on Friday — that is the problem. What’s so damning about the president’s actions is that he knows about the anger he’s fomenting, and he does it anyway. Stephens explains:
Which brings me to the July 20 meeting between Trump and two senior leaders of The Times, publisher A.G. Sulzberger and editorial page editor James Bennet. As Sulzberger later described the encounter, he warned the president that “his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous,” and that characterizations of the news media as “the enemy of the people” are “contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”
There’s no excuse for a president’s behaving this way. He has the ultimate responsibility to speak cautiously, given the power of his office — and yet he acts with reckless abandon. As Stephens notes, it only takes one troubled Trump supporter taking his words a little too seriously for things to truly get out of hand and for lives to be destroyed. And Stephens is convinced that day is coming.