Democrats Unveil Bill to Protect Journalists Amid Trump Attacks

(CN) – Looking to provide reporters cover from President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and incessant bashing of the news media, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell wants to make it a federal crime to assault a working journalist.

President Donald Trump talks with reporters outside the White House before traveling to Alabama to visit areas affected by the deadly tornadoes, Friday, March 8, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

The California Democrat, who is actively considering a 2020 presidential bid, reintroduced the Journalist Protection Act Tuesday along with two Senate Democrats.

“From tweeting #FakeNews to proclaiming his contempt for the media during campaign rallies, the president has created a hostile environment for members of the press,” said Swalwell in a statement. “We must protect journalists in every corner of our country if they are attacked physically while doing their job, and send a strong, clear message that such violence will not be tolerated.”

Swalwell introduced the same proposal in February 2018, but it didn’t advance past the formerly Republican-held House. With Democrats now overwhelmingly in control, Swalwell and Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., agree now is the time to try and pass new protections for the Fourth Estate.

“Over 200 years ago, our Founding Fathers had the foresight to recognize the importance of a free press to a fledgling democracy,” said Menendez in a statement. “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.”

There have been many high-profile attacks and threats against journalists in just over two years of the Trump presidency, causing Reporters Without Borders to drop the U.S. to 45th in its World Press Freedom Index. The Paris-based organization blames the drop on Trump’s repeated claims that the press is the “enemy of the American people,” and his calls to revoke broadcasting licenses from outlets that criticize his administration. 

Journalists have been assaulted while covering Trump’s campaign and presidential rallies, including last month in Texas where a man sporting a MAGA hat attacked a BBC reporter. Also last month, U.S. Capitol Police officers shoved several journalists who were attempting to interview lawmakers in the Senate basement and a local television news crew was robbed and shot at while covering a teacher strike in Oakland, Calif.

Several news media and journalism organizations are lining up behind the bill, which was introduced during Sunshine Week – an annual nationwide celebration of press freedom and open government.

“Forty-eight journalists faced physical attacks while gathering and reporting the news in 2018, as documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. More than two dozen newsrooms have received hoax bomb threats, disrupting their operations,” said Melissa Wasser, director for News Media for Open Government. “Not only is the role of the news media in our democracy under attack, but the safety of individual journalists is threatened.”

The Democrats’ proposal makes 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.”

“This bill makes clear that engaging in any kind of violence against members of the media will simply not be tolerated,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

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