Accuracy in Media

What do the story about the Michigan man who threatened to shoot up CNN and the couple in California who kept their kids chained to their beds have in common?

According to the Washington Post, they are both President Trump’s fault.

Kathleen Parker got right after it in her Wednesday opinion piece.

“It was probably only a matter of time before some unbalanced person decided that he needed to take out a few members of the ‘fake news’ media,” she wrote.

“And it was inevitable that his actions – in this case, his threats – would be placed at the feet of President Trump, who has spent a considerable amount of time and energy demonizing the media. If you’re a disturbed 19-year-old, then maybe you hear a call to arms from the commander in chief.”

Parker said she was “not alone in having received death threats and other unpleasant suggestions when I’ve written critically of Trump. Whether this is at least partially Trump’s fault is an interesting question without a convenient answer.”

She said it was “cold comfort” to the journalists Trump and his minions have harassed that police did not think the man who made the threats was likely to carry them out.

“One could reasonably argue that Trump isn’t to blame for what others do or say,” Parker wrote. “On the other hand, one could also posit that when the president targets journalists or media institutions by name in his frequent ‘fake news’ rants, he bears some responsibility for what happens as a result, assuming a direct connection can be made.”

She said Trump likes Twitter because he can talk directly to people and bypass the press, creating a “false intimacy” with followers who can find the tweets “almost like having a conversation, which I’ve heard many of his supporters say.”

This connection should not be allowed, she said, given its propensity to incite violence.

“Is it time to expand the definition of conspiracy or to tweak laws against yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater?” she asked. “When a pattern of incitement can be demonstrated, should the inciter be held accountable?”

By the same token, Parker said, the hateful and racist rhetoric used by the man who threatened to attack CNN “suggest a familiarity with the president’s messaging.”

All journalists are familiar with haters who threaten their lives, Parker said. And while Trump “didn’t create those people – or their distemper … he did make a conscious decision to mine and legitimize their darkest inclinations in exchange for power.”

Giving rise to dark inclinations doesn’t make Trump guilty either, she said.

“But it does make him a despicable human being, which is bad enough.”

Helaine Olen of the Post Plum Line had a piece the same day on the family in California under the headline, “What the ‘house of horrors’ says about modern America.”

She said the family’s neighbors suspected something was not right but did not say anything, likely leading to years more suffering for the children. She compared the case to Kitty Genovese, the New York woman stabbed to death in a park in the 1960s while others declined to intervene.

“It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that something in American life is at work here,” she wrote. “We are all too often isolated and have fewer friends and social engagement than in the past.

“We’re less likely to know our neighbors, too. There is also a harsh rhetoric at work in the country, one that blames people for their own troubles. Our own president dismissed desperate refugees as people who come from ‘shithole countries.’

“Perhaps it’s all of a piece. Too often we lack connection and, as a result, we lack empathy. And perhaps the lesson of the past year and of the modern Kitty Genovese in Perris, Calif., is a basic one: If you see something, consider saying something.” 

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