A California congressman, Eric Swalwell, has introduced the Journalist Protection Act to make it a federal crime to attack people who report the news.
I’m all for that, since I think journalists should be protected from being assaulted in the course of carrying out their jobs. However, the media campaign that has accompanied the introduction of this bill makes it seem as though the big bad wolf Swalwell has in mind is our current president, Donald Trump.
Yes, the Orange One has a big mouth. According to Swalwell, who is a member of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, “During his campaign and since taking office, President Trump has created a climate of extreme hostility to the press by describing mainstream media outlets as ‘a stain on America,’ ‘trying to take away our history and our heritage, and ‘the enemy of the American People.’ He tweeted a GIF video of himself body-slamming a person with the CNN logo superimposed on that person’s face, and retweeted a cartoon of a ‘Trump Train’ running over a person with a CNN logo as its head.”
Oh, dear! Are journalists now such creampuffs that these kinds of “threats” make us shake with terror? Presidents have been attacking the press since presidents and the press existed in this country. President Thomas Jefferson once wrote: “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” In 1806 he wrote: “As for what is not true you will always find abundance in the newspapers.” And although he didn’t support the federal Sedition Act that authorized prosecuting newspapers for criticizing the government, he did urge state attorney generals to go after his critics.
So it’s kind of silly that in April of last year the international organization Reporters Without Borders lowered the United States’ ranking in its annual World Press Freedom Index, citing President Trump’s rhetoric.
“President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration have created a toxic atmosphere,” Swalwell said. “It’s not just about labelling 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.”
OK, instead of what presidents SAY, how about what President Barack Obama actually DID. Under Obama and his self-proclaimed “wing man” Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department and the FBI spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records. The Justice Department labeled Fox News reporter James Rosen an unindicted co-conspirator for his reporting, and issued subpoenas to other reporters to try to get them to cough up their sources.
Swalwell quotes journalists of OC Weekly who claim that last March they were assaulted by demonstrators at a Make America Great Again rally in Huntington Beach.
You betcha. And right wingers Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos were chased off the campus of Berkeley University by firebrand campus radicals who were so fierce and destructive that you would have thought their team had just won the Super Bowl.
“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.”
I agree, Congressman. Let’s tell bad actors like former University of Missouri professor Melissa Click that when newspaper reporters show up at a leftwing rally and start questioning people in a manner you find offensive that it’s not OK to say, “I need some muscle over here,” to shut them down.
Yes, by all means, let’s make the reporter’s life a little easier. Anyone who interferes with newsgathering should be shamed. Especially public officials. Let’s tell cops that it’s not all right to prevent law-abiding citizens from videotaping and taking pictures of them when they are performing their duties.
Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and reporters CAN be that disinfectant’s most effective disseminators.
But let’s not pretend that threats to reporters come from one side of the political spectrum. No one likes a smarty-pants, as one of my old teachers used to say. And smarty-pants will always be in danger of annoying the people in power. No matter what their political stripe.