Videos from President Donald Trump's Make America Great Again Rally in Florida on July 31 captured Trump supporters yelling and chanting at journalists and trying to disrupt a live shot by CNN’s Jim Acosta.
TV networks are employing security guards at the president's high-octane rallies.
Notebooks, mics, cameras, hairspray - those are all things TV reporters are used to having with them at political rallies. Now, in the age of President Donald Trump, they've added another: security guards.
The networks are employing them, according to reporters, at Trump's high-octane political rallies, where the media often serves as the No. 1 rhetorical punching bag.
Last weekend, NBC News White House correspondent Geoff Bennett posted a picture on Instagram of himself with a member of the NBC security detail at Trump's Ohio rally, commenting, "We need security guards when covering rallies hosted by the President of the United States. Let that sink in." Meanwhile, ABC News reporter Tara Palmeri tweeted and wrote about covering the Ohio rally, "for the first time with a bodyguard."
Networks deployed security at Trump events as far back as the 2016 campaign. But in the wake of the shooting in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, and with the president ramping up both his rally schedule and his rhetoric against the media - he has tweeted that reporters are the "enemy of the people" five times in the past month, while he'd used the line just twice on Twitter before that - news outlets now find themselves increasingly facing the question of whether they're doing enough to keep journalists safe.
And reporters are starting to discuss the threats they face more often.
"Everybody is talking about it again," one White House reporter said. "People have been talking about it in the last month. It's because of the combination of the mass killing in Annapolis and Trump's stepped-up rhetoric."
MSNBC's Katy Tur said on air last week that the public doesn't see the extent of the harassment journalists face.
"What you do not see are the nasty letters or packages or emails. The threats of physical violence," she said. "'I hope you get raped and killed,' one person wrote to me just this week. 'Raped and killed.' Not just me, but a couple of my female colleagues as well."
POLITICO reached out to several major print and TV news outlets to ask whether their safety procedures had changed recently, and though many - including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC News - declined to comment, citing policies against discussing security matters, others indicated that the issue is receiving more attention.
"The New York Times takes the safety of our reporters very seriously," said New York Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha, adding that in recent months, "we have expanded measures to protect our journalists against the overall backdrop of increased threats and verbal attacks."
The Washington Post struck a similar tone, though over a wider time frame. "The volume of concerning threats has risen over the past couple of years, and we have been taking the necessary actions to make sure our staff is safe - that includes reviewing our protocols and coordinating with local authorities, as necessary," said Gregg Fernandes, the Post's vice president in charge of security.
A Fox News spokesperson said that although the network does not comment directly on security measures, the issue is receiving increased attention.
Though not directly related to Trump, the June shooting at the Capital Gazette, which resulted in the deaths of five people, was a stark reminder of the terror a single person can cause. And scenes like those at a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida, last week, when videos captured Trump supporters yelling and chanting at journalists and trying to disrupt a live shot by CNN's Jim Acosta, were also jarring.
Several reporters who cover Trump rallies told POLITICO that although they have not felt fearful at recent events, there is a sense that violence could easily break out - an atmosphere not dissimilar to Trump's events during his campaign. Reporters described an increasing number of informal discussions about how they would handle a dangerous situation. One reporter said there's more awareness now of details like where the exits are located and whether choosing a certain seat in the press area might put you in a better or worse position if the crowd gets unruly.
The journalist pens at Trump rallies are often in the middle of crowded arenas, leaving reporters more or less surrounded if something goes wrong. During his speeches, Trump sometimes points to the area as he decries "the fake news media."
Another reporter described several members of the crowd at last week's Tampa rally turning toward the pen and watching the journalists, or recording them on their phones, instead of facing Trump. "I really knew that I had to not react to anything," the reporter said. "I knew that what people wanted was eye contact with reporters."
Not every rally gets as heated as the one in Tampa, but one reporter said there's no doubt that Trump's ratcheting up of his rhetoric has had an effect.
"People are much more comfortable with the idea of telling reporters to their face, 'I think you're fake news,'" the reporter said. "This has clearly percolated into the mind of the Trump voter."
"I am concerned," the reporter added, "because if the new normal becomes 'enemy of the American people' and not just 'fake news,' I think that's a shade darker and a shade more dangerous."
White House Correspondents' Association president Olivier Knox said his group has been working with press advocacy organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists. "We've offered to put people in touch with them," he said.
News outlets are loath to discuss the specifics of their security measures, for fear of undermining them. But Frank Smyth, executive director of GJS Security, said he's been hearing from them more.
His outfit provides training for reporters heading to overseas hot spots like Iraq or Afghanistan, but between political rallies and the protests that have broken out in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, he said he is hearing more questions about domestic situations.
"We're trying to develop shorter, more affordable courses that would address the situation at home," Smyth said.
Tim Crockett, a VP of security at HX Global, also runs safety training courses for journalists. He said that though he's been running a two-day domestic course for the past decade, he's also picked up a heightened interest in the topic lately. "There's a lot more discussion about it," said Crockett.
Smyth agreed that Trump's rhetoric has made the situation for reporters more dangerous. "I'm not suggesting that people need security training," he said, "but people need to think about heightened situational awareness."
He added that there are several steps that news outlets should take to ensure the safety of their reporters, starting with securing their office spaces. The Times and Post have the type of secure foyer, with security guards and checkpoints, that he recommends, but he said he's concerned that smaller outlets wouldn't be able to afford those measures.
Smyth added that news organizations should also make sure they tell reporters how to proceed if a threat does emerge.
But the most valuable thing, he said, would be a cooling of the rhetoric from the top of the U.S. government.
"No amount of training or security measures are going to achieve the goal," he said, "if we're operating in a climate where the level of animus against the press is heightened and sustained and coming from the White House."
Comment: While the American people shouldn't replace political debate with violence or threats of violence, the media cannot blame Trump for the animosity of the people against them. Independently of whether you support Trump or not, the fact is that several American outlets do deserve to be called "Fake News" - starting with the CNN; the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Edited by Mario Milano, 10 August 2018 - 02:19 PM.