Media boost security as Trump ramps up 'enemy' rhetoric

Source: Politico | August 9, 2018 | Jason Schwartz

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.

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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.”

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“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.”

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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.”

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