A man was arrested for making threats on CNN employees in Atlanta, and his use of the term “fake news” has raised concerns that the derisive and hostile rhetoric aimed at the news media by President Donald Trump and others is raising safety issues for journalists in the United States.
“As the rhetoric towards the press emanating from the highest levels of government has grown more hostile, CPJ has received calls from journalists in the U.S. who say that they have received death threats,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.
The man, Brandon Griesemer of Ann Arbor, Mich., is accused of making 22 calls to CNN’s Atlanta offices on Jan. 9 and 10, including four recorded threats to its employees, according to an unsealed FBI affidavit. In one call, he said, “Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down.” He also made racial slurs against Jews and African Americans. Investigators say the man’s location was traced via the cell phone he was using.
He faces federal charges of transmitting interstate communications with the intent to extort and threat to injure. He was released on $10,000 bond on Friday. A public defender who represents him did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The CNN incident is one of the latest made on members of the media — in fact, reporters frequently talk about how routine they have become. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there were 44 physical attacks on journalists in the United States in 2017, the first year of the database.
A CNN spokeswoman said, “We take any threats to CNN employees or workplaces, around the world, extremely seriously. This one is no exception. We have been in touch with local and federal law enforcement throughout, and have taken all necessary measures to ensure the safety of our people.”
On Tuesday, Trump again used the term “fake news” in a tweet. He referred to “Crazy Jim Acosta of Fake News CNN.” But he has also dubbed “fake news media” as the “enemy of the American people,” and has retweeted a doctored video in which he wrestles a man to the ground whose head is labeled CNN.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, another journalism organization, said in a statement sent on Twitter on Tuesday that “journalists face verbal and physical threats every day just for doing their job: asking questions that people want answered. There are consequences to the dangerous rhetoric aimed at reporters and it only heightens the threat of violence against them.”
Elana Beiser, the editorial director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the CNN incident was “extremely scary.” She said the organization “has long maintained that when leaders use their platforms to vilify the media, they expose journalists to unnecessary risk.”
Steve Scott, the president of the New York Press Club, also called on Trump and members of Congress “to speak out loudly and clearly condemning violence against journalists, which is never the answer to solving political or philosophical disagreements.”
Last week, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), a critic of Trump’s, gave a speech last that called out the president’s use of the term “fake news” and his attacks on the media, but his focus was on what impact the rhetoric had on leaders of other countries.
“Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language,” Flake said.
At the White House on Tuesday, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said that “it is just not accurate that the president hasn’t spoken loudly both in words and in deeds against those who violate human rights.”
“Look at his deeds in confronting the most dictatorial regime in the world, North Korea. How could that not be a human rights issue?” He also cited Trump’s order of airstrikes after the Syria regime used chemical weapons, among other moves.