The editors of Time chose slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as the magazine’s Person of the Year. (Yesterday, I predicted that they would go with “separated families.”)
The editors actually cheated a bit, expanding the Khashoggi selection to include Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, Myanmar journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the staff of the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland — “representative of a broader fight by countless others around the world, who risk all to tell the story of our time.”
The choice is a good way for Time to honor all journalists, while not explicitly honoring themselves. And by saluting journalists and touting them as “The Guardians,” it sounds like a slam of Trump without explicitly being a slam of Trump.
Yes, Trump goes on furious Twitter tirades and denounces the U.S. news media as an “enemy of the people,” — feverish hyperbole better applied to the likes of ISIS and al-Qaeda and North Korea. But nasty name-calling is not the same as violence, and there’s considerable evidence Trump’s rage hurts his interests more than it helps them.
Trump inadvertently elevates most people he fights with — certainly he’s made names like Jim Acosta and April Ryan more widely known, and nobody’s slunk away and disappeared after being attacked by Trump. Megyn Kelly got a massive new contract at NBC, although she quickly departed that network after a controversy and massive payout. Labeling D.C.’s biggest newspaper “the Amazon Washington Post” hasn’t reduced the circulation. Calling Chuck Todd “sleepy eyes” did not make “Meet the Press” go away, or make Todd alter the tone if his coverage. He tweeted out an image of a fantasy of him body-slamming CNN, but the network’s ratings are improving.
The editors of Time acknowledge this:
For all the insults hurled by the President at the press, rhetoric which has been deployed by dangerous actors around the world, the U.S. remains a beacon for truth and free expression. This is a nation where, as we saw this year, a news organization can sue the White House and win, even at the hands of a judge appointed by that very White House.
The Trump administration couldn’t even permanently revoke Acosta’s press pass; they backed down after widespread condemnation.
The journalists honored by Time face the very real possibility of being killed for doing their jobs, by regimes in Myanmar and the Philippines fond of extrajudicial killings. Khashoggi was killed, and in the case of the Gazette staff, their colleagues were slain by a nut who had a history of stalking and who had made numerous threats of violence against the paper on social media. (Had the shooter been convicted of stalking instead of pleading down to harassment in 2011, he would not have been able to purchase a gun.)
Insults are not imprisonment, and vile tweets are not violence. The biggest threats to journalists around the world in 2018 don’t come from the president’s Twitter feed or off-the-cuff remarks, but many will choose to believe that they do.