I’m a comedian. I know jokes. President Donald Trump’s tweet of a doctored video was no joke. It was dangerously irresponsible. In the video — defended by Trump’s supporters as just good fun — The President of the United States can be seen punching a person with a label digitally superimposed over his face that reads “CNN.”
The video Trump shared was taken from a 2007 WWE wrestling match in which he was part of a scripted comedic “fight.” There, Trump the reality show host pretended to body slam WWE promoter Vince McMahon.
Trump defenders saying this video was just a joke are missing something: context matters. In 2007, that WWE video was fine; Trump was a private citizen/reality show host putting on an act and everyone involved was in on the joke.
But now he’s President of the United States of America — a man with enormous sway. That’s why the image of him in the doctored video body slamming and repeatedly punching a person in the face who represents a media outlet he has been railing against is so dangerous — particularly as he has been methodically ratcheting up his attacks on the press.
Recall that during the campaign, Trump slammed the media as “dishonest” and “fake.”
But after being sworn in as the 45th president, the press trashing became even more inflammatory. In February, he called the media “the enemy of the people.” He has repeatedly railed against CNN, The New York Times and others who dare criticize him.
And just a few days he ago, he unleashed a cowardly attack on MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, calling her “low I.Q. crazy” and then alleging she “was bleeding badly from a face-lift.” On Saturday, Trump again targeted Brzezinski for more harassment on Twitter, calling her “dumb as a rock.” (How Twitter doesn’t suspend Trump for being abusive to individuals is beyond me!)
Now Trump has upped the abuse ante by sharing this face-punching video with his 33 million Twitter followers, tagging his post “#FraudNewsNetworkCNN” (and he has since retweeted the video on the official POTUS Twitter account, thus using the official apparatus of the US government to demonize the media). What’s next? Will Trump next “jokingly” behead the NBC peacock?
Imagine, by the way, the outrage that would have followed if President Barack Obama had tweeted a video in which he punched a person representing Fox News in the face. Can’t imagine him doing that? There’s a good reason for that: In contrast to Trump, Obama was measured, thoughtful and understood what being president was truly about.
To those who quickly dismiss the threat that Trump’s tweets and this video could actually inspire violence, let’s look at what we saw in December with the “Pizzagate conspiracy.” That incident involved an outlandish online claim by some on the right that Hillary Clinton’s adviser was involved in a child sex ring being run from a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. A North Carolina man who read stories online told authorities he wanted to investigate, and so traveled to the pizzeria, where he then fired a shot from his gun. He was recently sentenced to four years in prison.
Indeed, Trump’s video was so alarming that Courtney Radsch of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told the Guardian that Trump’s “singling out individual journalists and news outlets creates a chilling effect and fosters an environment where further harassment and even physical attacks are seen to be acceptable.”
Let’s not forget it was only two months ago that a Republican candidate for Congress Greg Gianforte, body slammed a reporter. (Gianforte won the election the next day — and then pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to community service.)
And let’s also not forget that it was just a few weeks ago Trump supporters strongly — and correctly — objected to a photo of Kathy Griffin’s holding up a bloody head resembling that of Trump, because they saw it as an invitation to violence. CNN immediately fired her from her New Year’s eve gig, and Griffin apologized, which is a response we will not see from the President over this video tweet.
Also, recall that Trump supporters also went ballistic (incorrectly) over the New York City production of Julius Caesar, which featured a Trump-looking Caesar. (Far from celebrating the assassination of Caesar, Shakespeare’s play is a warning about the chaos and destruction that results for that misbegotten act.)
Donald Trump Jr., who is perhaps unfamiliar with the play, tweeted after the recent shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, affirming a commentator’s remark: “Events like today are EXACTLY why we took issue with NY elites glorifying the assassination of our President.”
But to them, this video where Trump is engaged in violent imagery is a big joke.
As a comedian, I will say there are times Trump can be funny. But this is not one of them. This video of Trump beating up a person who represents a reporter may be red meat for his base, but it’s bad for America.
No joke — it’s dangerous. Let’s hope that GOP leaders and Trump’s own administration can make that point to the President before he radicalizes someone to injure (or worse) members of the media who work at the outlets Trump has been demonizing.