Stupid Law Making Assaulting Journalists A Federal Crime Revived By Congress

from the scoring-cheap-points-to-impress-the-cheapest-seats dept

As an overreaction to President Trump’s mostly-hyperbolic verbal attacks on the journalism profession, a few legislators from the other side of the political fence have revived their stupid idea from last year. Here’s the law’s author in his own words twit:

If you can’t read/see this tweet, consider yourself lucky. Here it is in all its hashtagged glory:

A #freepress is essential to a healthy democracy. We must send a strong, clear message that such violence will not be tolerated – that’s why I introduced the Journalist Protection Act today w/ @SenBlumenthal & @SenatorMenendez.

This dumb law was defended in an inane but noisy statement by Rep. Eric Swalwell.

“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.

Yes. Swalwell’s official statement on his zombie legislation contained a hashtag. Here’s what the “Journalist Protection Act” [PDF] does: turns an existent crime into a slightly worse crime if the victim is someone the federal government considers a journalist. “Bodily injury” or “serious bodily injury” are the flavors of the felony enhancement, adding 3-to-6 years to violators’ sentences respectively.

Fortunately, the definition for journalist is broad enough to keep bloggers and livestreamers in the loop. Unfortunately, this just means more people are going to face enhanced sentences for harming members of our nation’s newest protected group.

Once again: this isn’t a good idea for anyone. It’s never a good idea to give extra protections to people who practice certain careers, whether they’re journalists or cops. Blues Lives Matter laws elevate cops above the people they serve. The Journalist Protection Act makes journalists’ lives worth more than those of the people they cover. One set of laws is “justified” by an imaginary “war on cops.” The other is “justified” by a bunch of boneheaded public statements by the Blowhard in Chief.

In both cases, the only thing happening is legislators scoring easy points preaching to the converted… and hoping the converted remember the stupidity they enacted in their names when reelection time comes around.

No real journalist should want this. Unfortunately, a bunch of journalistic groups are acting like it’s just the thing this nation’s been missing. The Society of Professional Journalists is offering its endorsement. So is the NewsMedia Alliance. Scrolling through the feed of tweets referencing this law reveals a disappointing number of journalist groups buying into this bullshit. This administration does pose a threat to journalism, but it takes the form of a crackdown on whistleblowers and placing journalists under surveillance, if not under indictment. It has very little to do with Trump encouraging physical violence against members of the press.

This isn’t anything any member of these groups should honestly want, unless they’re cool with legislators turning cops, bank CEOs, international arms dealers, bitcoin speculators, or other groups of people a certain percentage of the public finds loathsome into “protected classes.” If it’s cool for your own kind, you can’t bitch too much when it starts elevating exactly the sort of people you don’t like.

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Stupid Law Making Assaulting Journalists A Federal Crime Revived By Congress”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
56 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Sub Rosa Reasons

It protects those who are representing the public as members of the press. Police and first responders deserve similar protections. Today, people interfere with government too much, and that should stop.

I favor order over freedom, which is a bit more conservative than most. I don’t see the need for uber-free speech when everything can be recorded anyway. Most every elected official since Jefferson has abused power.

Perhaps they could make journalists wear bodycams to qualify for protection under this law?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Sub Rosa Reasons

"It protects those who are representing the public as members of the press. Police and first responders deserve similar protections."

Existing assault laws do all of this.

What "Blue lives matters" and this "journalist protection act" accomplish is one thing only – it assigns different worth on human lives depending on an occupation in LAW.

In other words it turns the law from being "equal for all" to "some people are more equal than others" which is basically what is usually quoted as a good reason to assign rogue status to a nation.

So this is a shit idea. It’s already illegal to assault people. making it more illegal to assault a certain kind of people just opens the door on admitting that the law isn’t going to be equal for everyone after all. Last time that was demonstrated was when the british empire lost its colonies – including the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Sub Rosa Reasons

What "Blue lives matters" and this "journalist protection act" accomplish is one thing only – it assigns different worth on human lives depending on an occupation in LAW.

But what do you bet that if it’s a cop assaulting/harassing a journalist (like that Techdirt story from two days ago), this law won’t do a damn thing. And like the Nevada thing from yesterday it may only help certain journalists.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Sub Rosa Reasons

True in both cases (btw, i was the one posting above, forgot to sign in).

So this type of law is also inconsistently applied which is yet another reason not to consider it. I’m not too keen on legislation which has the effect of stratifying society.

Jim Crow and Baghdad Bob/Bobmail/Blue may not agree with me there…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Sub Rosa Reasons

"It protects those who are representing the public as members of the press. "

  • The Press has never represented the public, and in what forum is this supposedly taking place? I do not want the press representing me, do I get to vote for these special people who call themselves the press?

"Police and first responders deserve similar protections."

  • They have protections in place currently that are not being followed, what will these new protections do for them?

" Today, people interfere with government too much, and that should stop."

  • Not sure from what country you originate, but in the US it is your duty to question your government. Asking questions and pointing out problems is not interfering. You sound like a dictator wannabe.

"Perhaps they could make journalists wear bodycams to qualify for protection under this law?"

  • Will they also be allowed to carry? Because that is why cops wear them … to record the use of lethal force should evidence be necessary. But you knew that and apparently are being smug about a pet peeve.
Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Sub Rosa Reasons

*"Police and first responders deserve similar protections."

They have protections in place currently that are not being followed, what will these new protections do for them?*

It gives Prosecutors more leverage to force a plea agreement.

They heap on every charge that they can think of to create a possible sentence of a few gajillion years. This would be just one more – with the added threat of Federal time.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Sub Rosa Reasons

"They heap on every charge that they can think of to create a possible sentence of a few gajillion years. This would be just one more – with the added threat of Federal time."

Enough laws exist to make that a reality already. "Throwing the book" at someone in the US today means in theory there’s always a case for having someone do hard time forever almost no matter the crime. The "Three strikes" paradigm in many states viewed in the background of how many perfectly unwitting citizens casually and unknowingly break laws on a daily basis already means one DA off his rocker and we end up with a very dystopian reality playing out.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Of course not, that would require them to not only admit but make a public statement that the police can do bad things, even to the point that people might need protection from them, which would have the police unions(at the least) calling for the heads/resignations of any politician who would dare to question the moral character of the police and suggest that it’s anything less than perfectly flawless.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Easy way to fix this

There’s a way to make this law better all around.

add that the assault has to be performed by an agent of the government acting under color of authority, removing qualified/absolute immunity. After all, when the local cops are the ones doing the assaulting, then yes, THEN you need the federal oversight. And by the same token, if a free press is so essential they need this kind of protection, the very people they’d most need it from are the government they’re supposed to be monitoring.

but not just law enforcement, politicians (Gianforte for instance) or the local road crew who the sheriff would sic on someone and then decline to arrest for lack of evidence. etc.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Easy way to fix this

You’ve gotten the intent of the law(s) backwards.

"Special" assault laws and "sentence enhancements" on cops, firefighters, EMT’s and such were intended only in the case of during the performance on their duties.

Public Safety measures. You don’t want the local rockheads throwing bricks or shooting at the people trying to keep the neighborhood from burning down.

They were never intended (yeah, yeah, I know – lobbyists) to give special protections to such people when they were OFF duty.

As to "journalists"… we DO need a legal definition of such if we are going to pass laws or give special considerations to journalists.

I had a Press Pass in the eighties (photographer) issued by the County police department. Had to show a couple of pay stubs from a news agency, get my picture taken, and wait two weeks for it to show up in the mail. Some pittance fees needed to be paid as well.

Frankly, it now seems that anyone with a cell phone can declare themselves a "journalist" and demand special protections – like not naming a source, being permitted to cross the tape, etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Easy way to fix this

Public Safety measures. You don’t want the local rockheads throwing bricks or shooting at the people trying to keep the neighborhood from burning down.

Right… and that’s illegal already.

we DO need a legal definition of such if we are going to pass laws or give special considerations to journalists.

So, do these special statuses for certain groups actually work? Do they reduce violence against those groups? The laws for cops have been around awhile, and it’s a reasonable question to ask before extending them.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Easy way to fix this

In the first case, if you throw a brick at a firefighter while they’re standing around minding their own business, you get charged with the same as if you’d thrown the brick at the local dog walker.

When you assault that same firefighter while they’re fighting a fire, you put the entire neighborhood at risk, so there are additional penalties.

As to protected groups, no. The creation of ANY protected group is obvious discrimination against everyone NOT of that group.

That said, if you’re going to create such groups anyway, you need to actually define what constitutes a member.

What makes a journalist? A degree in Journalism? Pay stubs from a News Agency? Owning a cell phone? Web space?

IMO, anyone who claims "Journalist" as their main source of income on their IRS tax paperwork.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Easy way to fix this

When you assault that same firefighter while they’re fighting a fire, you put the entire neighborhood at risk, so there are additional penalties.

That reaction is understandable, and we could go to all kinds of trouble defining terms like "firefighter" and "journalist" and arguing about how much to add to the sentence. Does it do anything other than make us feel good? Does it improve public safety?

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Easy way to fix this

Throwing a rock at an "off duty" firefighter is simple assault, and you’d be charged with that if it was a waitress and not a firefighter.

It’s a crime against a single person.

If you vandalize a fire hydrant so it can’t be used, you’re on the same level of "who" your crime is against as if you’d thrown a brick at a firefighter working a fire.

The rationale makes sense. How it’s enforced and frequently abused is another matter entirely. And I can’t envision any manner in which a "journalist" on or off "duty" can have the same applied.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Being against Trump is now the bandwagon anyone can ride. For good and valid reason, alas, the same way there were crowds of crackpots and nutjobs riding the Anti-Nixon bandwagon.

When it comes to politics I’m always bipartisan – I assume the guy who ends up being elected is the crook I have to watch the hardest, because that’s the asshat whose avarice has the biggest potential to do actual harm.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: So..

Interesting. Where does the line get drawn? What is news? Does it include private activities of celebrities, other public figures, other private figures? Where does privacy come in the course of journalism? Is everything anyone does fare for public fodder? Or should journalists be schooled in the difference between privacy and that which is appropriate for public consumption. Public officials should be scrutinized, they put themselves in the spotlight. Celebrities are another matter, though they also put themselves in the spotlight. Others however…

John85851 (profile) says:

If you're not with us, you're against us

Law-maker: Here’s a new law that will protect journalists.
Anyone else: But there are plenty of existing laws that work fine.
Law-maker: So you’re against protecting journalists? You want them to get beat up, attacked, or worse? What kind of monster are you? Next you’ll be saying FOSTA doesn’t help victims of sex trafficking!

Personanongrata says:

Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges*

Stupid Law Making Assaulting Journalists A Federal Crime Revived By Congress

This Stupid Law (and others like it that seek to carve out special exemptions/classes of persons) is nothing but tripe that will only serve to further divide the nation.

How is a great nation conquered? By dividing it’s people amongst themselves.

Either there is equal protection under the Law for all persons or there is not.

*The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government. ~ Gaius Cornelius Tacitus

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...