Assaulting Journalists Would Be Federal Offense Under New Bill
(by Keith Burbank) – A bill introduced Monday into the U.S. House of Representatives would make it a federal offense to assault a journalist, the office of Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Castro Valley, said.
The Journalist Protection Act would make it a federal offense to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist who is doing work that crosses state lines or national borders.
Swalwell’s office said the bill would likely include local journalists because most stories are posted online.
The bill would also make it illegal to intimidate a journalist from newsgathering.
Swalwell’s office said that it’s likely that local or state police would arrest someone who attacks a journalist but if they don’t this bill would give federal authorities that option.
“This is a dangerous time to be a journalist,” Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild, a division of the Communications Workers of America, which supports the bill, said in a statement.
“At least 44 reporters were physically attacked in the U.S. last year and angry rhetoric that demonizes reporters persists,” Lunzer added. “The threatening atmosphere is palpable.”
Since President Donald Trump started campaigning for president, Trump has fostered a climate of hostility toward journalists, Swalwell’s office said.
“It’s not just about labeling reports of his constant falsehoods as #FakeNews – it’s his casting of media personalities and outlets as anti-American targets, and encouraging people to engage in violence,” Swalwell said in a statement.
Last year, for example, journalists were assaulted in an attack at a Make America Great Again rally in Huntington Beach, in a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia and in Joplin, Missouri.
“Physical violence and intimidation should never get in the way of covering police, protesters, presidents and other public matters,” Rick Blum, director of News Media for Open Government, said in a statement.
Blum’s group, which is a coalition of news media and journalism organizations, has also pledged support for the bill.
“Each one of us – those who took an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution and those of us who pledge allegiance to our country through our citizenship – have an obligation to defend, protect and strengthen our democracy and the free flow of information for an informed public,” Blum added.
Twelve other legislators are co-sponsoring the bill, including Ro Khanna, D-Santa Clara.
Swalwell’s office said Trump has described mainstream media outlets as a “stain on America,” “trying to take away our history and heritage,” and “the enemy of the American people.”
Trump recently tweeted a GIF of himself body-slamming a person with the CNN logo superimposed on the person’s face and retweeted a cartoon of a “Trump Train” running over a person with a CNN logo on its head,
according to the congressman’s office.
“Not all attacks on journalists this year have been committed by Trump supporters, but the fact remains that rhetoric emanating from the world’s most powerful office is stoking an environment in which these attacks
proliferate,” Swalwell said. “We must send a loud, clear message that such violence won’t be tolerated.”