DW Washington Bureau Chief: President Trump's continuous hate speech has led to reporters being harassed and threatened.
When a leading politician like Donald Trump achieves power largely based on a series of lies, it is hardly surprising that he confronts the very people who attempt to reveal those lies. He did, after all declare us - the independent media - to be public enemy number one. The writing was on the wall when, as a presidential candidate, he name-called and fired up his audiences in packed gymnasiums, pointing accusing fingers at journalists to the roars of approval by his supporters. He didn’t hold back, as witnessed by the way he mocked a physically disabled colleague.
It was uncomfortable, four years ago, and many of us were relieved when the campaign events we were covering were over, and we were able to return to our cars with our cameras, tripods and microphones intact. As we near the end of the Trump presidency, the same uneasy feeling has returned, and we are again forced to deal with increasingly threatening behaviour. The climax occurred on January 6 when a mob, incited by the president’s words, stormed the US Capitol, and five people lost their lives.
We were in Washington, working for DW where we witnessed first-hand how aggressive the Trump supporters were, as they attempted to disrupt our live coverage as they marched towards the government buildings.
It was irrelevant to them which independent media outlet we were working for. We attempted to explain who we represented, and that we wanted to report and understand the driving force behind their actions, but as was the case during the presidential election, there is little opportunity of having factual conversations with Trump supporters at such rallies.
Trump's seeds of hate have taken root. He has managed, through his continuous repetition of lies and accusations against the media, to turn a political stance into one of hatred – often reacting to the truth with blind rage. Later that evening, colleagues from other broadcasters had their equipment smashed and water poured over it. Fortunately, nothing happened to them and they were able to flee in time.
The current atmosphere in the US is seriously affecting the way we journalists are able to work. Particularly TV reporters who are immediately recognizable as journalists because of their equipment. As we cover protests nowadays, protective waistcoats and gas masks are simply a matter of course.
All this is cause for concern, but what worries us most of all is how this development may affect the future of democracies. How can a democratic system function if there is no real understanding of what is real, right, and scientifically proven? How can people be reached if they show no willingness to accept unwelcome, or uncomfortable truths? How can this divided country be reunited, when its citizens live in completely different realities?
Trump was aware of what he was doing. It is no coincidence that he used Nazi propaganda terminology such as ‘fake news’ and the ‘lying press’ (Lügenpresse) in order to undermine the credibility of his critics early on.
He skilfully deconstructed accepted communication channels, such as respectful press conferences by reducing everything to the absurd and with the help of social media, spread his lies that remained unfiltered and without any form of accountability, to millions of followers.
He has undoubtedly been aided in this by the fact that the major media companies have reaped immense profits over the last four years from the constant coverage of Trump. They, too, share the blame for this disintegration of reality, and are also responsible for the attack on journalism as an important pillar within a democracy.
Fact: The permanent circus around Trump has enabled media outlets to achieve record sales in recent years.
A few days before the end of his term, radical Trump supporters specifically posted on the platform Parler: "Don’t be afraid to take reporters down by any means necessary."
The post was not just a call for criminal action, but a targeted attack on the democratic form of government which cannot function without an independent press. Our core task is to keep those in power in check and if necessary expose their lies.