Press advocacy groups condemn attack on BBC cameraman at Trump rally
Posted February 12, 2019 8:23 a.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2019 6:19 p.m. EST
CNN — A photojournalist for the BBC was attacked Monday while covering President Donald Trump's rally in El Paso, Texas.
A rallygoer gained access to an area designated for the news media and began shoving people, according to video of the incident. No one was seriously hurt. But it is the latest example of anti-media hostility boiling over at Trump's campaign events.
"BBC cameraman Ron Skeans was violently pushed and shoved by a member of the crowd," the broadcaster said in a statement. "The man was removed by security and Ron is fine."
Journalism advocates condemned the incident and connected it to the president's constant criticism of the press.
"The president of the United States should make absolutely clear to his supporters that violence against reporters is unacceptable," the White House Correspondents Association said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
Later in the afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders weighed in.
"President Trump condemns all acts of violence against any individual or group of people -- including members of the press," she said. "We ask that anyone attending an event do so in a peaceful and respectful manner."
The Trump 2020 campaign, which held the rally, also acknowledged the disturbance in a statement on Tuesday.
"We appreciate the swift action from venue security and law enforcement officers," the campaign's chief operating officer Michael Glassner said.
The BBC's North America editor Jon Sopel described it differently in a blog post.
Sopel said "there was no security last night, and the attack on Ron was stopped by a Trump-supporting blogger. Law enforcement were slow to get involved."
Video released by the BBC showed a man wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat coming into contact with a cameraman and swearing before being led away.
"I didn't know what was going on," Skeans told the BBC. He described the contact as a "very hard shove."
The BBC said in its statement that it "is clearly unacceptable for any of our staff to be attacked for doing their job." The public broadcaster also noted that Trump "checked with us that all was OK."
"You all right? Everything okay?" Trump said during the incident, gesturing toward the press pen. Members of the audience chanted his name and he continued with his remarks.
Trump has made hostility toward the media a feature of many of his rallies, where a metal barricade usually separates his supporters from reporters. Numerous journalists have raised concerns over their safety. Several television networks sometimes hire private security to accompany reporters to the events.
Eleanor Montague, the BBC's Washington news editor, said in a tweet that the El Paso crowd had been "whipped up into a frenzy against the media by Trump and other speakers all night."
The BBC's Washington correspondent Gary O'Donoghue described Monday's incident as "an incredibly violent attack" in an interview with his employer.
"This is a constant feature of these rallies — a goading of the crowds against the media," O'Donoghue told the BBC. He added he had previously been "spat at" during a Trump rally.
Other journalists also reported being pushed around by the man at Monday's rally.
"Here's the moment a guy wearing a red MAGA hat jumped into the media pen and shoved several cameras, including ours," Jacob Rascon, a reporter for KPRC in Houston, said on Twitter.
CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta last year posted a video on Twitter that showed a hostile crowd at a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida.
"I'm very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt," Acosta wrote on Twitter.
Some Republicans have called on Trump to stop his attacks on the media.
Mitt Romney, a senator from Utah and former Republican presidential nominee, argued last year that Trump's tactics are detrimental to democracy.
"Surely every president has endured stories that he knew were inaccurate and has chaffed at one or more news publications," Romney wrote in a blog post. "But no American president has ever before vilified the American press or one of its professional outlets as an 'Enemy of the People.' "
On Tuesday Reporters Without Borders, which advocates for press freedom around the world, said it was looking into what happened in El Paso.
"We firmly denounce all physical violence against reporters for doing their jobs," the group said. "This is unacceptable in the country of the First Amendment."