By James D. Agresti
August 13, 2018
The New York Times recently published a commentary by Bret Stephens titled “Trump Will Have Blood on His Hands.” In it, he repeats a common media narrative that journalists are going to be murdered because Trump has called them the “enemy of the people.” Stephens emphasizes it is not a matter of if but “when” this will happen, because “some nut” will think “he’s doing the president’s bidding” and take Trump’s “words to their logical conclusion.”
In other words, Stephens says that if a public figure sharply criticizes someone, and anyone commits violence against them in accord with that view, the critic is culpable. By this standard, the Times and other media outlets are responsible for extensive bloodshed. For several of many examples:
- James Hodgkinson—a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer and Rachel Maddow fan who rained gunfire on Republican lawmakers—repeatedly condemned Republicans, just like the Times editorial board and its columnists have done on thousands of occasions. These commentaries often vilify Republicans with statements like “people will die” because of their policies.
- Ismaaiyl Brinsley assassinated two New York City police officers after he posted on Instagram, “I’m Putting Wings on Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours … Let’s Take 2 of Theirs.” Less than a month before that, the Times’ editorial board wrote that “many police officers see black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings.” The editorial board has since added to its ranks Sarah Jeong, who has repeatedly demonized police officers with statements like “cops are a**holes” and “f**k the police.” She also yearned for violence against them, writing, “Oh boy I sure would fight the cops, with my guns, I wonder why black people haven’t thought of doing that.” Instead of condemning these remarks, the Times hired the person who wrote them, and Stephens welcomed her to the paper, writing: “Let he who is without a bad tweet cast the first stone.”
- For decades, interracial murders of white people by black people have been two-to-three times more common than vice-versa, all while the Times published commentaries that described large swaths of whites as “deep-seated” haters, opportunistic oppressors, and racists. Applying Stephen’s logic, the Times thus shares in the blame for every murder of a white person by a black person motivated by racial hostility.
- While ISIS controlled thousands of square miles of Iraq and was executing, raping, and enslaving the Iraqi people, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman buttressed their propaganda by claiming that the “Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake,” “America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war,” “the public justifications for the invasion were nothing but … falsified pretexts,” and “we were, in a fundamental sense, lied into war.” Moreover, he said this in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary that some major media outlets have suppressed and misreported.
Stephens also seems oblivious to the fact that, by his own reasoning, he is painting a target on Trump by declaring that he is complicit in murder.
False Innuendo and a Naive Assumption
Stephens begins his piece by describing a voicemail he received from someone who threatened his life and said “the press is the enemy of the United States people.” He used this to transition to the recent mass murder at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland—which has no known connection to Stephens’ accusation against Trump.
In the Gazette case, the perpetrator had been threatening the employees of this paper since 2011 for exposing his harassment of a woman. The Gazette’s former editor and publisher, Thomas Marquette, tried to get a restraining order against the future killer back in 2012, years before Trump announced his candidacy. In Marquette’s words: “I remember telling our attorneys, ‘This is a guy who is going to come in and shoot us’.”
Nonetheless, immediately after the shooting, reporters began pinning it on Trump:
- “You caused this, Mr. President,” declared White House correspondent Andrew Feinberg.
- “Blood is on your hands, Mr. President,” said Rob Cox, a global editor for Thomson Reuters.
- Trump “has blood on his hands,” announced Young Turks host Cenk Uygur.
- “The shooting today … cannot reasonably be separated from the President’s mission to villainize the press as “the enemy of the American people,” tweeted Teen Vogue columnist Lauren Duca.
Stephens then covers himself and pivots by writing: “The alleged killer in the Annapolis shooting does not appear to have acted from a political motive. But the message I got in May was the third time I’ve been expressly or implicitly threatened with violence by someone whose views clearly align with Donald Trump’s.”
That’s a naive assumption given that hundreds of fake hate incidents have taken place in recent years. And many of them are committed by leftists who blame others for these acts in order to smear them as racists, sexists, or xenophobes.
For example, former liberal Candace Owens has detailed what occurred when she tried to fund a project to unmask online bullies. Zoe Quinn—a Twitter employee who had become famous because she was allegedly bullied by anonymous white men—called Owens and warned her that unless she stopped this project, white men and Trump supporters would attack Owens. Quinn also told Owens that she does not want to know who her harassers were, and if Owens carried out this project, “You will ruin everything.”
Owens refused to stop the project, Quinn began crying and hung up the phone, and within a few hours, Owens received thousands of online threats like “Ni**er—Ni**er—Ni**er—Die—Die—Die” from “super-obvious screen names like ‘Trump or Die’, ‘Trump 2020’, and ‘White Man Behind Computer’.” She then tweeted: “All I can say is that 100% after speaking with Zoe Quinn: this girl was never harassed; she’s doing the harassing.”
Owens—an African American who says she was a “nobody,” “a liberal,” and “a Democrat” at the time—thought journalists would help her when they began calling the day after this happened. Instead, several reporters tried to portray her as a conspiracy theorist. However, she recorded a phone call from the Washington Post, which cancelled its article after Owens threatened to sue for libel and produced a recording proving that the reporter had lied. Owens says the Post then told her: “I wasn’t important enough to run it anyways.”
This is the same Candace Owens who was recently accosted at a Philadelphia restaurant by members of “antifa,” a self-described “radical left-wing” group that says it is justified in physically assaulting anyone they deem to be “fascists.” This includes the police, journalists who film them, Obamacare opponents, Fox News viewers, and Trump supporters. Video shows this predominantly white mob screaming at Owens, yelling in her ear with a bullhorn, throwing a drink on her white companion, and chanting “F**k white supremacy,” “F**k the police,” and “F**k America.”
Yet, Stephens’ article draws no connection between media rhetoric and such acts, and it does not touch upon the possibility that the threatening messages he received were actually from leftists trying to slander Trump supporters and generate a story in the Times.
Criticism Versus Defamation
Stephens reports that Trump said “the news media” is “the enemy of the people,” but Trump has been clear that he is not referring to the entire news media. Instead, he applied this label to the “fake news media” and recently reinforced this by writing: “They asked my daughter Ivanka whether or not the media is the enemy of the people. She correctly said no. It is the FAKE NEWS, which is a large percentage of the media, that is the enemy of the people!”
When people publicly criticize each other, there is always a chance that a third party will use those words as a license for violence. This does not necessarily mean that the critics share the blame. Furthermore, without public criticism, countless misdeeds would not be exposed and halted. Even in cases when such words lead to lethal violence, more lives may be saved than if critics remained silent and let the wrongs continue.
However, the basis for blame rises when people make false allegations or tell half-truths. Journalists, commentators, politicians, and activists have done this on countless occasions, and concrete facts prove that they continue to do so on a regular basis.