President Trump has a gift.
With 140-characters, he can flush out media's most carefully hidden free speech frauds.
Rather, it's to posit a possible silver lining to this whole mess: That Trump's Twitter account keeps pushing members of the press to reveal their support for the First Amendment is conditional. Say something demeaning or unpleasant, as the president often does, and watch these same supposed free speech warriors turn into living, breathing Parental Advisory labels.
It's nice to have all of this out in the open. At least we know where people stand. Hey! A possible silver lining!
Over the weekend, the president tweeted a parody video featuring him pummeling a humanoid version of the CNN logo. The video was taken from a "Wrestlemania" episode in which Trump tackled and beat World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon. The video that Trump tweeted this weekend was taken from that pro-wrestling episode, with the difference being that someone had superimposed the CNN logo over McMahon's face.
The tweet was stupid and puerile. It was not presidential, as we have come to understand the word, and it was beneath the dignity of the office. We deserve better than a chief executive whose chief interest seems to be score-settling with cable news networks.
The president's tweet, however, is not responsible for any possible future acts of violence against media. If some lunatic takes it upon himself to try to harm a journalist or pundit, that crime is on him, not the president's words or tweets.
Actions are different from words, and words are not violence. This is the position of the free speech absolutist.
You'd think American newsrooms would be made up entirely of free-speech hardliners, as the First Amendment is kind of our thing, but you'd be wrong. As Trump's tweets have shown repeatedly, our media is brimming with people who live in perpetual fear of words.
CNN resident martyr Jim Acosta, for example, warned this weekend that the president's stupid pro-wrestling tweet could lead to violence against the press.
"[W]e have to stand up to this. We have to confront this and say that it's wrong," Acosta said, adding, "my concern is … that this kind of rhetoric, this kind of behavior is going to lead to a journalist being hurt and that's the thing I worry about. I hate that I'm worried about that on Fourth of July weekend when we're all supposed to celebrating our freedoms, including the First Amendment, the right to free speech and a free press."
He added, "He's trying to silence us ... I just think that we've reached where people need to say, enough is enough, it doesn't matter what party you're from …we've reached the point where the behavior has to be labeled for what it is, and it is just wrong. … I think we're well beyond that and now we just have to stand up, confront it and say, this is wrong. There's no right side. There are both sides of this issue. There's no, well, on one hand, and on the other hand. It's just wrong."
Oh, come off your cross.
Over at NBC News, BBC's Katty Kay proclaimed, "[T]he fact that we had Sarah Huckabee Sanders this week specifically coming out in the White House ... [and] saying that the president has never condoned or encouraged or promoted violence — that is exactly what he has just done."
Journalist Soledad O'Brien made the same point, tweeting, "White House spokesperson [Sarah Huckabee Sanders]: Donald Trump has "never promoted or encouraged violence" June 29, 2017. (4 days ago)."
CNN's own PR shop made this point as well in a tweet that read, "‘The President in no way form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary.' - @SHSanders45 6/29/17."
The cable news network declared elsewhere that the tweet, "encourages violence against reporters."
CNN contributor Anna Navarro said in a not-at-all-over-the-top note that, "Trump is going to end up getting a media person killed w/this incitement to violence. Maybe then, he'll stop."
"Around the world, journalists are murdered with impunity on a regular basis. This isn't funny," said Poynter editor Ben Mullin.
You get the picture.
We've been over this before, so we'll keep it very simple: Words are not to blame for the actions of people. People are responsible for what they do.
Yes, words are important. Our leaders hold a great deal of power in this way, as words can elevate or diminish. However, we are going down the wrong road if we say rhetoric or a silly pro-wrestling GIF are to blame for real life violence. To believe this would be to believe that there ought to be certain restrictions, possibly legal, on certain types of speech. To not do this would be irresponsible. Also, to believe that "words kill" would be to subordinate personal responsibility to external factors not directly involved in specific actions. This frees the criminal from the crime.
We in the press benefit enormously from the protections provided by the First Amendment. Let us continue to enjoy and defend this freedom to speak, rather than fault it for the (possible) evil actions of others.