American television news pundit Lawrence O’Donnell addressed a packed Union Chapel Sunday to defend the free press from invectives by President Trump.
“I stand before you this morning as an accused enemy of the people,” said O’Donnell. “Here are the names of five enemies of the people who we should never forget, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, and Rob Hiaasen.”
O’Donnell honored the lives of those lost at the Capital Gazette shooting in Annapolis, Md., and spoke in support of their cause, as well as his own.
O’Donnell, who hosts the MSNBC opinion and news program “The Last Word,” said the people he named could not defend themselves from President Trump’s accusations because they were gunned down at their desks, doing their jobs.
“This is a week where people like me have a sickening feeling,” said O’Donnell.
He then spoke about the year of 1968, when many families, including his own, were being threatened with draft notices and fearing death letters during the Vietnam War.
“So 1968 was full of sickening feelings,” said O’Donnell. “But because of the Vietnam War, we saw something we had never seen before, an antiwar presidential candidate.”
O’Donnell referred to Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, who came in second against Lyndon B. Johnson.
He then spoke about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, and reporter Pete Hamill, who was on Kennedy’s campaign staff and wrote “an amazing first-person account” after witnessing the assassination. “He was a crucial witness in the assassination,” said O’Donnell. “But he also described what it felt like, just how sickening the feeling was on that day.”
O’Donnell said that at that point, after the murder of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and now a second Kennedy, the idea of assassination was no longer an unusual thing in America — it had become routine.
He then brought the conversation full circle, stating that America has had these sickening feelings many times before, but the nation has always come out on top.
“The truth of our history is that we have been in worse places than we are this week, and we never know how long it might take, but we always have to come out the other end on the right side,” said O’Donnell.
He said that when he heard the Lord’s Prayer at morning Mass just before his speech, he thought of the words “deliver us from evil,” and how eventually the American people will be delivered from evil.
“Eventually, that is what America does,” said O’Donnell. “But what we don’t ever get from it is, well, that’s the end of evil.”
The only way to prevail against evil is to recognize that it exists every day, and not to let it take control, he said.
“The truth of it is that the First Amendment is still intact, and it’s alive and well,” said O’Donnell. “The news media is not the enemy of the people, the truth of it is that the American news media at their very best are the soldiers of truth that no president can control.”
O’Donnell said historians will paint a different picture of the American news media from the one the president paints today. Those reporters, editors, and staff of the Capital Gazette were not the enemies, but heroes of the people. “The most important thing for history is that the day after those five were murdered, the Capital Gazette published a paper — the very next day,” said O’Donnell. “That is the true spirit of those who are now called enemies of the people.”