We'd love to be able to say: If it doesn't stop, someone's going to get hurt.
But, unfortunately the amped up rhetoric about the press being the enemy has already gotten working journalists in America hurt — in some cases, killed or threatened.
This summer, a gunman opened fire on the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, and killed five people in that newsroom. Just last week, one of the organizations targeted by bomber Cesar Sayoc was CNN.
It's easy to think that those things happen in large cities or to national news organizations. But, the reality came home this week when a person left a "hoax device" at KTVQ, a television station in Billings.
While those deranged minds that concocted these terroristic acts and violence against news organizations are responsible for their own actions, it would be foolish not to call President Donald J. Trump to task for the vilification of the media. By repeated attacks on the media, he has given cover to those unstable people who take his words at face value and believe that's it's acceptable to go after people simply doing their constitutionally protected job.
Enemy is a potent word; we're allowed to do almost anything to eliminate a threat by an enemy. By using that word over and over, Trump has marginalized the media, making those who work in it less than human, and running the risk that it's somehow acceptable to do violence to them.
While Trump is not the only person to paint the media as the enemy or evil, because of the power of the office and the inflamed nature of his rhetoric, it is imperative for him to take responsibility and choose better words, or call for a different approach to disagreement. Unfortunately, we see little hope of the vitriol subsiding.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump does not intend to change his message or his tone.
If our exercise in democracy has taught us anything, it's that speech has consequences. When Republican President Abraham Lincoln declared slaves in the South free through the Emancipation Proclamation, it changed the course of America. When Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream, it expressed the noblest hopes that we would live up to our own ideals.
But those words can work against us. They can tear us apart.
Good, spirited conversations can and should happen about news events, politics and our shared values. However, we cannot simply blame those who deliver the message — the media — for news and information we don't like.
Politicians respond to public pressure, and when a crowd of Montanans cheer on the president who congratulates a congressman for assault, then how can pipe bombs in the mail and hoax bombs at a local television station be surprising?
Members of the media can't just stomp our feet and insist on change. We have to be assisted by citizens who reject the message of violence and the hyperbolic vocabulary of "enemies." We must have those who love the media, freedom of speech and understand the separate duties of the press and the government, and are willing to check Trump's overheated rhetoric. Citizens must call out their elected officials and demand different, or make a change at the ballot box, even if they may not love the messages the media delivers.
For his part, Montana Sen. Steve Daines issued a statement Tuesday, urging local leaders to act and the FBI to investigate the KTVQ incident.
"The violence in our society must stop. We must remember we are one nation and Americans first. And at a time of divisiveness, we must stand together,” Daines said.
Yet we hold Daines responsible for stopping short. He must be willing to stand up to a president who would label journalists "enemies of the people." Those same journalists who he would seem so concerned about at places like KTVQ have also been disparaged by the leader of Daines' own party. Until Daines has enough of a spine and voice to decry the president's constant attack, his statement is nothing more than crocodile tears in an email.
The same is true for Greg Gianforte who has twice accepted the praise of Trump for being a fighter and assaulting a reporter. Gianforte refuses to denounce the president's praise, even though he plead guilty to assault. By accepting those moments of praise, Gianforte has tacitly given his approval to the notion that it's heroic or patriotic to beat up reporters.
We stand with our fellow journalists and colleagues at KTVQ, and within journalism. We denounce any attacks on the press, and call for a discussion of facts, not an assassination of an industry.
We have seen the enemy. And it's not us.