After Kathy Griffin’s ill-advised but frankly kind of amusing photoshoot with a rubber mask and ketchup that looked like Donald Trump’s severed head, the President and his supporters acted like she was a member of ISIS. She lost a gig with CNN, she was investigated by the FBI, and she told me, she was dropped by a number of her allies and friends.
Griffin is one of the many enemies of the President who shows up in a video that was displayed as part of a "meme exhibit" at a conference hosted by a pro-Trump group at the Trump National Doral resort in Miami over the weekend. The video shows a scene from the 2014 action film The Kingsman in which the protagonist is attacked by members of a hate group when he tries to infiltrate their church. He kills everyone inside. It’s a violent scene, and in this parody of it, the hero is Trump and the villains include members of the press and other Trump critics, including John McCain and Mitt Romney.
This video, which was uploaded to YouTube by a pro-Trump channel called the GeekzTeam in 2018, is not a deep fake. The faces of Trump’s critics, as well as the logos of CNN, NPR, Vox, and other media outlets, are poorly superimposed atop bodies. It’s less sophisticated than you might see in a remedial Photoshop class. Nothing about it looks real. But still, despite the flimsy plotline, the low production values, and the highly unlikeable hero, this video seems to have freaked a whole lot of people out.
Shocker: Noted hypocrite Donald Trump has not condemned this video the way he condemned Griffin's photo. He's too busy literally freeing ISIS fighters in Syria.
The response among members of the media? NPR’s David Folkenflik called it “horrific.” New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi said she was “sickened” by it.
“I think it's one of the most explosive, gruesome reflections of the president's anti-media rhetoric to emerge in the past two, three years,” Nuzzi said on WNYC’s The Takeway. “For me, something kind of snapped. I'm used to hearing about the 'fake news.' I'm used to having contentious interactions with, if not the President, then his allies, his staffers, people in the administration, his supporters. But to see something depicted in almost a silly way when there was a shooting in a newsroom a year ago, and there are mass shootings on what seems like a daily basis in America, it just felt like beyond anything I'd seen before.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists denounced it as well. "Given the ongoing threats and incendiary rhetoric targeting the media, and in light of last year's shooting at the Capital Gazette that killed five, such a video sends a dangerous message that could encourage violence against journalists,” said Executive Director Joel Simon in a statement.
The White House condemned the video, too. But, again, not Trump. Perhaps he is too busy fucking over the Kurds and urging people to vote for Sean Spicer on Dancing with the Stars to care, but it’s not hard to see why people, especially journalists, are so upset.
As both Nuzzi and Simon mentioned, in June, 2018, a shooter killed five employees of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, including four reporters. The incident had nothing to do with Trump: The shooter had a history with the paper going back to 2011, when the Gazette published an article about him harassing an acquaintance, and he reportedly sent hate mail and threats to the paper for years.
While Trump may not have had anything to do with the Gazette shooting, from the very beginning of his administration, he’s attempted to paint the media as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people," and many people have argued that his rhetoric has inspired mass shootings. According to the Press Freedom Tracker, a collaboration of the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists, 12 reporters have been physically attacked at Trump events, although this includes a photojournalist who was thrown to the ground by police while covering the inauguration and a Mediaite reporter who was shoved by Sebastian Gorka. And, of course, there was Cesar Sayoc, a Trump supporter who mailed pipe bombs to Trump critics, including members of Congress and CNN. Things like this did not happen under Obama, even though he had a contentious relationship with the press of his own.
That said, while I understand where Nuzzi and Folkenfilk are coming from, I’m having a hard time getting riled up about this video, which, according to people who were at the event in Miami, was not a major part of the conference. It was shown in a back room along with other pro-Trump “art” pieces, and it had been online for a year before the New York Times reported on it.
Some people, including Kathy Griffin, are saying the video is “incitement” but I’m no more concerned that this video is going to inspire attacks on journalists than I am that The Kingsman is going to inspire attacks on churches. The idea that violent movies cause violence continues to pop up, but it’s also been largely debunked. In fact, while movies have become more violent in the past 30 years, violence has actually dropped.
Journalism really is a dangerous profession in some places. Reporters in places like Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt regularly face violence and arrest by the state, not to mention the danger inherent in reporting in war zones. Between 1992 and now, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 869 journalists have been murdered worldwide. This includes Saudi Arabian dissident and Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, who wasn't just murdered on orders from the Saudi government, he was also dismembered. And Trump, rather than demanding an investigation, continued his unwavering support of the Saudi royal family, and may even have been complicit in the attempt to cover it up.
And yet, as dangerous as the world can be for journalists in some places on Earth, only eight reporters have been murdered were in the U.S. since 1992, including the four reporters killed at the Capital Gazette. Of the other four, one was killed in retaliation for his reporting on drug traffickers, one was killed in the 2001 anthrax attacks, one was killed by an aggrieved former colleague, and one was killed to prevent the publication of a story. That’s it. Eight murders in 27 years. You’re safer working in media than, say, retail, where dozens of workers are killed on the job each year. (Then again, no one is making videos of retail workers getting mown down by the President so, really, what do they have to complain about?)
Even still, while this video is violent and tasteless and gross and I can imagine that if The Stranger was one of the outlets targeted, I might be upset. But until two days ago, it was a little-known parody that few people were likely to see. Now, it’s been viewed nearly 5 million times, and that, for once, is not Trump’s fault. It’s the fault of the reporters and editors who decided this idiotic video was a national story.