While covering the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell got shot through the neck by a sniper. After his book on motorcycle gangs was published, Hunter S. Thompson was viciously beaten by the Hell’s Angels. In 2011, Lara Logan of CBS was sexually assaulted and nearly scalped while reporting in Egypt.
And NBC’s Katy Tur got called a name by Donald Trump.
What has happened to journalists? Once a profession where danger was fairly common, from life-threatening nature to physical assault from enemies, it’s increasingly becoming a safe space where Ivy League graduates can implode from microagressions, kvetch constantly about minor scrapes, and have public meltdowns on Twitter. During an interview on the Today show, Tur, who is hawking a new memoir, reveals the trauma she endured when candidate Donald Trump called her “little Katy Tur” and said she was dishonest. “Well, that is in the book,” Tur ominously said, “and you can go back and read exactly what it felt like in that moment. It was jarring, it was scary, and it was one of those feelings that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake.”
Not exactly Hemingway getting hit with a mortar in World War I. It’s not even Watergate, when Attorney General John Mitchell, irritated by the reporting in the Washington Post, made the following boorish remark about publisher Katharine Graham: “All that crap, you’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied. Katie Graham is gonna get her t*t caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.” Graham laughed, ignored Mitchell, and published the story. She didn’t need counseling.
Still, Watergate made journalism glamorous, and rather than a working-class profession it became an elite, Ivy League career. The result is a fourth estate that’s grown increasingly hypersensitive. In the age of Trump, when Americans need reporters who can do their work with a steady hand and have the patience to investigate genuine problems in the government, this serves to make the media more and more irrelevant. They’ve become the neighbor who calls the cops on a noisy neighbor while a tornado tears through the center of town.
A recent issue of Bethesda magazine reveals the extent of the problem. Bethesda is named for the Washington suburb that is home to some of the Washington, D.C. area’s most expensive real estate and the well-connected people who own it, including many journalists. Yet the way they are described by reporter Steve Goldstein, it could be Afghanistan:
One morning this past February, Olivier Knox, a veteran Washington reporter who covers the White House for Yahoo News, was driving his 11-year-old son to the YMCA. It was a few days after President Donald Trump referred to the news media as “the enemy of the American people” on Twitter. His son looked troubled. “Dad,” he asked, “is it true that Donald Trump called reporters his enemies?” Knox nodded yes. “Are you going to be safe at work?” the boy asked.
Upset, Knox tried to reassure his son. “It was a gut punch,” he recalls. “It was a really hard thing.”
Knox lives in Bethesda, as does NPR correspondent David Welna, also quoted in the piece. “It’s kind of the best of times, worst of times,” Welna mourns. “Best because it’s a great story. Worst because there’s a sense that journalism is under attack.” At a party for journalists in March organized by Mary Louise Kelly of NPR, Goldstein reports, “Trump’s antagonistic stance toward the press was the chief topic of conversation.” “We were licking our wounds,” said Welna. Poor baby.
Lest you think this was all a liberal bedwetting session, conservative writer George Will chimes in. “Every administration has grievances with the press,” he says. “Few administrations, if ever, have so enthusiastically embraced the idea of treating the press as an adversary and as a monolithic unit.” Will, we are told, lives in Chevy Chase Village. It’s one of the wealthiest neighborhoods not only in D.C., but in America.
And so on and so on. From the Post to the Times, from NBC to CBS and ABC, the complaining goes on and on. Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker, who covered the Trump campaign for The New York Times, told Bethesda she’s never experienced “that level of mass hostility” in crowds before. “By the end of the campaign, the [Trump] crowd was primed to boo and hiss as soon as we entered the hall,” she said.
Booing and hissing! Can you imagine? It’s almost like these people entered a profession that involves conflict.