As Trump Tensions Rise, Will More News Outlets Heighten Security?

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Miller Mobley

CNN is at the center of the latest firestorm and experts are adamant about the need to be proactive, rather than reactive, on security.

With the media industry denounced by the President as the "enemy of the American people," some news outlets are being proactive about the security measures they are taking in the current climate.  

Most companies are generally unwilling to talk about the measures they take to provide for the security of their newsrooms and employees, and that hasn't changed in the wake of President Trump's decision to tweet on Sunday an edited video of him body-slamming a man with the CNN logo superimposed on him. A CBS News spokesperson said the network is always attentive to security and safety issues, but doesn't discuss its efforts publicly. Reps for ABC and Fox News did not respond to a request for comment, and NBC declined comment.

"Sadly, I think news organizations in the United States need to think about security in ways we have never before considered," said former CNN Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno. "With the President and others turning against news organizations and individual reporters, demonizing them and casting them as opponents and enemies, we have seen crowds turn ugly. We have witnessed instances of physical attack."

While it may be too early to tell whether media companies are at a greater risk today than before the President's most recent inflammatory comments about the industry, security experts who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter were adamant about the need to be proactive, rather than reactive, on security. 

"We have newsroom security procedures and protocols in place, but as a general matter of policy do not discuss them," said a spokeswoman for The New York Times, one of the few organizations that responded to THR about enhanced security measures in this current period of hostility toward the media. 

A CNN spokesman did not respond to a question about whether the network is increasing security measures in response to the President's tweet. But, in an interview with the Times published Wednesday, CNN president Jeff Zucker said that security threats against employees have increased, and that President Trump "has caused us to have to take steps that you wouldn’t think would be necessary." At a small gathering for reporters last month, Zucker said CNN is "incredibly concerned" about threats to the safety of its employees. "This has been a very serious issue for us for a long time," he said.

Zucker's personal information has also been published recently in a way that makes the company very uncomfortable. In a June 29 video for his Project Veritas organization, conservative provocateur James O'Keefe stakes out Zucker's home and gives out his personal address.

Online detractors have also sought to publish personal information about Andrew Kaczynski, a CNN investigative reporter who drew the ire of Mike Cernovich and the right-leaning media ecosystem Wednesday for a story on the identity of a Reddit user who took credit for creating the mock wrestling video.

On ABC's morning show Sunday, Republican strategist and CNN commentator Ana Navarro called the wrestling tweet "an incitement to violence," and said of Trump, "He is going to get somebody killed in the media — maybe that will stop him." But, she said, "Nobody at CNN is scared. If anything, this is making each and every one of us more resolute not to cower at the bullying of this president."

While they might be unwilling to go into detail publicly, many media companies employ a chief security officer tasked with handling threats, and most have gone through threat evaluation and security awareness training programs. Media companies, and particularly big-name news anchors and show hosts, have long been at some risk of attack, but there's no question that the environment has soured over the first few months of the Trump presidency.

"In today's political climate, I think there's a potential for a greater threat," said Gregory Boles, a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who now serves as associate managing director for the security risk management practice of consulting company Kroll.

While maintaining a baseline level of security, media companies have gone on high alert in response to particular incidences of violence against journalists, including the January 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris and an August 2015 attack on a local television reporter and producer in Virginia.

Matthew W. Doherty, a senior vp for security risk management firm Hillard Heintze and a former Secret Service special agent, said that news organizations routinely share information with each other about potential threats to personnel. "Because they threaten one reporter, they could be a danger to another reporter," he said.

Doherty said there's been a shift in the direction of greater caution among public-facing talent. "We are noticing that news organizations, the on-air talent, they are being more cautious about their personal life being portrayed on social media," he said.

Boles said it is important to "intervene with the victim," as well as with the perpetrator, to discourage behaviors that could be increasing risk. "You don't have to be Miss America or Mr. Universe just to have a stalker," he said.

"You never want to be caught behind the eight ball," said Boles. "You want to prepare yourself for any possible threat way ahead of time, before it becomes an incident."