Much has been made of CNN host Don Lemon's anti-Trump commentary immediately following the president's Phoenix rally last night, but that performance was really just an emotional, strident rant in response to another emotional, strident rant. ABC News' Cecilia Vega came after Trump from a different angle, framing his rhetoric as not just overheated or inaccurate, but potentially illegal. The First Amendment's speech protections are quite sweeping, with one exception being speech deliberately designed to incite imminent illegal conduct. Vega declared on Good Morning America earlier today that Trump's harsh criticisms of the press amounted to "incitement, pure and simple." Here is a portion of the president's stinging, demagogic remarks, followed by Vega's frantic response:
Not only does the media give a platform to hate groups, but the media turns a blind eye to the gang violence on our streets! pic.twitter.com/Mau0B1qYIP— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2017
CV: Well, George, this was incitement, pure and simple. I turned my cell phone camera on the crowd just so you can see the reaction there while we were on the stage. That’s what it looks like when the president turns the crowd on you. The president said that journalists hate this country. That’s what he told this crowd. This was an assault that went on and on and on. And George, I’ve got to tell you that this one felt different. It really feels like a matter of time, frankly, before someone gets hurt.
Trump's attacks on the media are sometimes deserved, but are often overwrought, hysterical, and fact-challenged. (A mirror image of that indictment might apply to much of the media). I didn't like it when he branded the press "enemies" of the American people, and I said so publicly. Asserting that journalists "hate this country" would be another example of irresponsible rhetorical excess, but he didn't actually say that in Phoenix. It's not in the transcript, and it didn't make CNN's list of the 57 "most outrageous" quotes of the night (update: I see that Trump did question whether many in the media like the country, which is a bad look coming from a president). The president did say that he believes that many in the media do not want to "make America great again" -- which might be over-broad and unfair, but it's a far cry from "these people hate the United States," or whatever.
And even if he had said that, it still wouldn't rise to the level of incitement. It would be vituperative condemnation, which is hardly new or suprising, given the fraught and oddly symbiotic relationship between the press and this president. In any case, he did not in any way encourage violence or criminal conduct (as he did at some campaign rallies). Vega's interpretation of his words, therefore, strikes me as reckless and misleading journalism. It would be one thing to say that he created an extremely hostile environment for the media; he did. It's another thing altogether to lead viewers to believe that he may have crossed some legal line; he most certainly did not. A worrisome strain of anti-speech censorship is emerging on the Left. Would they like to empower the Trump administration to crack down on "hate" speech used as a "political weapon"?
Ed Morrissey raises another point that's also worth flagging -- especially in light of our ongoing debate about political violence on the Left. Just as the media has lectured conservatives that it's unacceptable to mention the thuggery of left-wing "Antifa" radicals within the context of condemning the Alt-Right bigots with whom they've clashed, here we have a major network correspondent wringing her hands about the possiblity of Trump-inspired or -directed violence being carried out by his supporters...the morning after anti-Trump rioters literally assaulted Phoenix police outside the venue (that link, ironically, comes from ABC News). Ed writes:
[Trump's] remarks are open to criticism as demagoguery as they are, but first Vega has to report them honestly. That’s precisely Trump’s criticism of the media — that they twist and misreport what he says. Trump’s remarks are just that: criticism, of the same kind and even the same tenor as the media applies to him. Even silly or stupid criticism doesn’t amount to “incitement,” at least not in a legal sense, nor in a “pure and simple” sense either. Vega explicitly accuses Trump of inciting the crowd to violence, but nothing in this speech even comes close to suggesting a violent response. (Much of it sounds like self-pity.) That comes nowhere near the Brandenburg test in a legal sense, or in a moral sense either. Both sides of this debate should reread Harry Truman’s advice about politics, heat, and kitchens rather than wax hysterical about their reciprocal treatment...If Vega wanted to see real incitement, she could have stepped outside, pure and simple...Two Phoenix police officers got injured while responding to the violence in the crowd -- the crowd outside the rally protesting Trump.
Trump is far from blameless for his role in further coarsening our discourse and hastening America's (increasingly stupid) "End of Discussion" spiral. But the media is very much a culprit, too, and too many reporters' apparent inability to cover the president fairly or professionally compounds the culture of distrust and polarization. It's clear that the press views itself the heroic dragon-slayer in this unfolding drama, but this delusion lacks desperately-needed introspection. This is well said and broadly true:
Trump is the effect, not the cause, of the way Americans view the media. The media, as a general rule, refuse to admit this.— Steve Krakauer (@SteveKrak) August 23, 2017
Since we began with a mention of Don Lemon's little editorial fulmination, I'll leave you with some blowback against his show's crude, unfair armchair pyschology:
CNN, Don Lemon, Ana Navarro need to think long and hard about that Trump and mental illness segment. And never do something like that again.— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) August 23, 2017
It's the sort of ha-ha speculation society has rightly condemned as ugly and prejudiced. In any other context it would be called a slur.— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) August 23, 2017