On Tuesday evening, CNN’s Jim Acosta tweeted out his outrage regarding Trump fans’ treatment of him at a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida.
Now, Acosta isn’t wrong that we ought to treat each other more civilly. But his tweet caused consternation because it reinforced the sense that members of the media are dramatically self-involved, and rewrite or ignore history to place themselves at the center. (That’s particularly true of Acosta — find you someone who loves you the way Jim Acosta loves Jim Acosta.)
When Acosta says, “We should not treat our fellow Americans this way,” he seems to ignore the fact that the media has repeatedly gone light on treatment of fellow Americans in this way. His own network, CNN, aired a two-hour town hall Two Minutes Hate directed against Second Amendment supporters, at which Parkland shooting survivors maligned NRA members and a sitting United States senator as accessories to murder. CNN has continued to treat Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) with respect, despite her insistence that physical confrontation at gas stations is a worthy political goal. Media downplayed violence against Trump supporters during the 2016 campaign, only bothered to cover the mass shooting of Republican congresspeople for a couple of weeks, and continue to ask serious questions about whether Republicans are “weaponizing” free speech, or “pouncing” on campus leftist intolerance.
In other words, malicious rhetoric didn’t start yesterday, and it didn’t start with Jim Acosta or Donald Trump.
In fact, the peculiar self-absorption of members of the media plays directly into the hands of their opponents. When Acosta insists, “The press is not the enemy,” he suggests that his chief goal is defense of his industry, rather than presenting the truth to the American people. The media have gleefully entered into pitched battle with Trump, and Trump has even more gleefully gone to the mattresses. The media rarely act as neutral arbiters of truth, but think of themselves as such. When Andrea Mitchell of NBC News says that Trump is like Stalin, it’s hard to hear anything but the sound of two grudges screaming at each other.
Again, none of this justifies the behavior of those at Trump’s rallies, who are acting more like sports fans booing the visiting team than like threatening mobs or politically reasonable human beings. But the shock and surprise with which members of the media greet every fresh display of incivility is somewhat galling when the media are only selectively angry about certain incivility.