The Veterans of Foreign Wars defended the press on Tuesday after a rally in which veterans booed reporters. But the VFW stopped short of condemning President Donald Trump, the man who incited the attacks.
During Tuesday’s campaign-style rally in Kansas City, Missouri, Trump spoke at length about his hatred of the media, calling CNN “the worst” and saying an NBC story ― which he did not identify ― was “done by the lobbyists.”
“Stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” Trump said as veterans in attendance began to boo.
The VFW responded to the incident in a statement that admonished its members who booed but stopped short of condemning Trump’s dangerous rhetoric.
“Today, we are disappointed to hear some of our members boo the press during President Trump’s remarks,” the organization said, adding that the many outlets that attended the event had been invited by the VFW.
When contacted by HuffPost for further comment, the VFW said only that it “stands by our original statement.”
Brandon Friedman, the digital media director for the Department of Veterans Affairs from 2009 to 2012, told HuffPost the VFW should have known better when it invited Trump.
“The way I think they should have handled this was to take responsibility for inviting a person who has authoritarian tendencies and is somewhat of an aspiring dictator,” Friedman said. “They can’t act so naively as to say, ‘Oh, we had no idea.’ Everyone has seen Trump rallies, everybody knows how he behaves and how he turns the crowd on the press.”
Instead of chastising its own members, he said, the VFW should have condemned Trump.
“Trump was the ringleader and [the VFW] just sort of brushed that aside and blamed their members, and I don’t think that was an appropriate response,” Friedman said.
Career journalists ― some of whom are also veterans ― chimed in on Twitter:
Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for The Washington Post, stressed that “not all” veterans were opposed to the press.
“One vet just came up to me after Trump’s speech to shake my hand, thank me for my reporting and whispered, ‘I have one question: How do you put up with this bullsh― every day?’” Rucker tweeted.
Friedman said it’s important not to normalize Trump’s behavior.
“Turning people on the media ― that’s what fascists do,” Friedman said. “There’s no way around that. And we should not be normalizing that behavior. I think by inviting him, that normalizes him. It’s pretty disappointing. I don’t think it’s a good look for the VFW.”
Trump’s Orwellian attacks on the press continued when he encouraged those at the rally to stop believing the things they can see and read.
“Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening,” he said.
Hours later, audio clips surfaced of the president discussing a payment to a former Playboy model with his personal attorney. Maybe he should have told his supporters not to believe their ears either.