Under ordinary circumstances, the death of five journalists would provoke sympathy and concern from readers.
But yesterday’s shooting in a local newsroom didn’t, because right after the death of five journalists from Capital Gazette, major news media outlets spent hours after the attack, when the bodies were barely cold, blaming two innocent people: President Donald Trump and me.
I’ve been wrongly accused of a lot of terrible things in my career as a right-wing provocateur, but this might be the worst – and the most extraordinarily groundless – allegation of the lot. At this point, I might be the most lied-about person since Jesus Christ.
It’s true that earlier in the week, I had sent a silly “troll” message about “vigilante death squads,” as a response to two hostile journalists who were asking me for comment. It was my way of saying, “Get lost.” Maybe it was a childish thing to say. I did not and would not have published such a thing publicly – but the journalists in question did, fomenting a tornado of criticism flat-out lies such as the New York Observer’s headline, “Milo Yiannopoulos Encourages Vigilantes To Start Gunning Journalists Down.”
I had done no such thing. But the fake news cycle started to gather steam. “Milo wants vigilantes to start killing journalists, and he’s not being ‘ironic’” was the headline from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which went a step further than the Observer in claiming direct insight into my brain. “Milo Yiannopoulos: I Hope Journalists Are Murdered,” read a completely fabricated headline in The Advocate.
As news spread yesterday afternoon of an active shooter at a newspaper office in Annapolis, Md., journalists tried to link the two stories. It was partisan smearing – and it backfired horribly.
The shooting suspect, identified as Jarrod Ramos, had been harassing the Capital Gazette since 2012, when he filed a failed defamation suit against it. Ramos had a vendetta against a columnist who had accurately reported on a sexual harassment case against him. The paper’s own former publisher told the Baltimore Sun: “I remember telling our attorneys, ‘This is a guy who is going to come in and shoot us.’”
But let me be clear: I regret nothing. I told some hostile members of the press to get stuffed, in private, in a colorful way. It was they who decided to cook up a storm of fake outrage by publishing my remarks.
Nearly a quarter of a million tweets were sent yesterday linking me to the Gazette’s shooting before we even knew the perpetrator’s name – let alone his motivations. Phrases such as “Arrest Milo” and “Deport Milo” began independently trending, as did petitions to have me banned from every social media network.
Today there are people online saying I need “the Richard Spencer treatment,” referring to an infamous video in which that moronic white nationalist attention-seeker gets smacked in the face while giving an interview. So I’ll have to step up my security arrangements again. And, as a result of the hysteria, yesterday payment processors PayPal and Venmo both permanently booted me off their services. It’s for a court to decide how much the New York Observer owes me for that one.
Now look, I might not be the most sympathetic character in the world. My act is equal parts journalism, provocation, vaudeville and mischief for the sake of mischief. And I’ve been a very vocal supporter of Donald Trump, which has been enough to get my “gay card” revoked many times over. But none of this gives reporters the right to claim, straight-faced and with confected shock, that I am somehow responsible for five journalists’ deaths.
After all, it’s not like I held up the “decapitated” head of the president. That was a lefty, Kathy Griffin. Or told the first lady I wanted to her son locked in a cage with pedophiles. That was another lefty, Peter Fonda. And I didn’t say I’d fantasized about blowing up the White House. That was Madonna.
I’ve spent my entire career in books, columns and on college campuses calling out people who use their fists instead of their words – something every journalist who slandered me yesterday knows perfectly well. How many journalists do you suppose have apologized to me for their reckless allegations? That’s right: none. But I’ve also spent my entire career defending free speech and the right of every American to joke, even about serious subjects.
Trump calls the media “our country’s biggest enemy.” I agree with him, and so do a lot of readers, I’m afraid. I don’t think journalists were angry at me this week because they honestly believe I was stoking violent sentiment. I think they were furious that someone in public life had dared to make an offhand joke about the level of contempt in which the media is now held. Trust me: I’m not about to stop joking.
Of course they don’t deserve to die – most of them, anyway! – but journalists put themselves in their current position. (That was a joke too just in case you were wondering). The media alone are responsible for the fact that the majority of Americans now believe that the press is dishonest, disingenuous and hopelessly partisan.
Trump didn’t do that to you, guys. You did it to yourselves with a slew of biased reports, unforced errors, hysterical attacks and ugly name-calling.
There are consequences to the hate and slander reporters gleefully spread about the President and his supporters: not murder, of course, but contempt and indifference from a public increasingly sick of media malpractice. For people in the business of maintaining and monetizing attention, that’s a different kind of death sentence.