Social Media References to Journalists as ‘Soft Targets’ Ignites Inauguration Coverage Fears

“This is scary territory,” says Seattle Times managing editor Ray Rivera

Last Updated: January 16, 2021 @ 3:17 PM

As the media gear up to cover President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration in Washington D.C.,  some journalists are alarmed by an ongoing spate of Twitter references to journalists as “soft targets” in relation to possible violence surrounding the event.

Seattle Times managing editor Ray Rivera told the Associated Press he was disturbed after coming across tweets using the “chilling” phrase “soft targets” to describe journalists who will be covering the inauguration in D.C. or planned protests at state capitols across the nation.

“This is scary territory,” Rivera said. “I don’t want to overstate this, but there is always the concern. It’s hard to know how much of this is rhetoric or bombast, but it’s easy for me to think that some person is going to take those messages seriously and do something.”

“Soft target” is a military term describing unarmored and undefended places or people under threat of being attacked or destroyed. Journalists reported being threatened and having camera equipment grabbed and smashed during the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob of Trump supporters.

In the mayhem, the words “murder the media” were scratched on the door of the Capitol.

Many of the more than 100 tweets currently posted about the “soft target” phrase are reaction to an incendiary user post on the alt-right social media site Parler. Amazon shut down the service on Jan. 11 following Google and Apple banning the Parler app from its app stores.

Still, the Parler user quote lives on on Twitter: “Remember, ALL JOURNALISTS are soft targets, and are fair game in the coming revolution! Don’t be afraid to take reporters down by any means necessary!”

The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Friday that the inauguration will feature a scaled-back crowd and a “reimagined” parade.  The announcement addressed the need for a change from the traditional festivities due to COVID-19 protocols rather than concerns over violence. However, security surrounding the inauguration is being ramped up significantly in light of the Jan. 6 riots.