Menendez, Blumenthal Introduce Journalist Protection Act

Menendez, Blumenthal Introduce Journalist Protection Act

Bill introduction comes amidst recent assaults on reporters, new Trump Administration attacks on press

NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the Journalist Protection Act, making it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist affecting interstate or foreign commerce in the course of reporting, or in a manner designed to intimidate him or her from newsgathering for a media organization. It represents a clear statement that assaults against people engaged in reporting are unacceptable, and helps ensure law enforcement is able to punish those who interfere with newsgathering.

“Over 200 years ago, our Founding Fathers had the foresight to recognize the importance of a free press to a fledgling democracy.  Today, that importance cannot be overstated,” said Sen. Menendez.  “Despite the dangerous rhetoric coming from the Trump Administration, and the disturbing uptick in attacks on working reporters, the press is not the enemy of the people.  A free, and independent press—a strong Fourth Estate—is essential to the American people and our democracy, ensuring an informed public and holding those in power accountable.  We cannot condone any physical attacks on journalists or members of the media.”

“A free, unfettered press has always been a hallmark of our democracy. At this extraordinary moment in our history, the press’s role in our democracy is more critical than ever – uncovering and reporting information, exposing wrongdoing, and holding public officials accountable,” Sen. Blumenthal said.  “Reporters face a near-daily barrage of verbal attacks from this administration, which has the very real consequence of casting the media as enemies of the American people, and possible targets of violence.  This legislation makes clear than engaging in any kind of violence against members of the media will simply not be tolerated.”

The bill’s introduction coincides with new attacks on the media by the Trump Administration, including the barring of CNN and AP reporters from a public event this week with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and forcibly removing an AP reporter from the building.  Earlier this week, 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl also reported that President Trump explained his attacks on the press by saying, “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

President Trump has frequently attacked the press, 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.”  At the end of April, the watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders dropped the United States by two places in its annual World Press Freedom Index.  Four days later, President Trump called the White House press corps “a bunch of fake news liberals who hate me.”

In February, WPIX reporter Howard Thompson and photographer John Frasse were attacked by a bat-wielding man while working on a story in the Bronx, N.Y.  Earlier this year, OC Weekly journalists said they were assaulted by demonstrators at a Make America Great Again rally in Huntington Beach, Calif.  Last August, a reporter was punched in the face for filming anti-racism counter-protestors in Charlottesville, Va., and in September, a Joplin, Mo., blogger was similarly attacked for his providing information about the community.

The bill is supported by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and by News Media for Open Government, a broad coalition of news media and journalism organizations working to ensure that laws, policies and practices preserve and protect freedom of the press, open government and the free flow of information in our democratic society.

“This is a dangerous time to be a journalist,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild, a division of the CWA.  “At least 44 reporters were physically attacked in the U.S. last year and angry rhetoric that demonizes reporters persists.  The threatening atmosphere is palpable.  The Journalist Protection Act deserves the support of everyone who believes our democracy depends on a free and vibrant press.”

“Broadcast employees assigned to newsgathering in the field often work alone, or in two-person crews,” said Charlie Braico, president of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, also a CWA division.  “With their expensive and cumbersome equipment, they are easy and tempting prey for anti-media extremists and thieves. The Journalist Protection Act will permit the authorities to properly punish people who attempt to interfere with our members as they work in dynamic and challenging situations.”

The Journalist Protection Act’s original co-sponsors in the House of Representatives include U.S. Representatives Eric Swalwell (Calif.-15), Steve Cohen (Tenn.-09), David Cicilline (R.I.-01), Grace Napolitano (Calif.-32), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Andre Carson (Ind.-07), Debbie Dingell (Mich.-12), Darren Soto (Fla.-09), Ro Khanna (Calif.-17), Jose Serrano (N.Y.-15), Bobby Rush (Ill.-01), Maxine Waters (Calif.-43), and Gwen Moore (Wis.-04).