Latest Attack On A Free Press: Reporter Arrested For Asking Questions To Trump Administration Officials

from the um-what? dept

Another day, another attack on a free press. The latest: a long-time reporter, Daniel Heyman, of the Public News Service in West Virginia was arrested for asking questions of Trump administration officials. Heyman yelled some questions to Health & Human Services Director Tom Price along with White House senior advisor Kellyanne Conway:

Daniel Ralph Heyman, 54, with the Public News Service of West Virginia, was freed on $5,000 bond Tuesday night on a charge of "willful disruption of government processes," according to a criminal complaint.

“The above defendant was aggressively breaching the secret service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him a couple of times from the area walking up the hallway in the main building of the Capitol,” the complaint states. It adds Heyman caused a disturbance by “yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.”

Whether you like it or not, the press is kind of supposed to ask questions of elected officials. That's their job. And, sure, some will argue that the complaint says that he was "aggressively breaching the secret service agents," but others on the scene indicated nothing beyond ordinary questioning happened:

Valerie Woody, who was there as outreach coordinator for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said Price's group was moving quickly down a hallway and Heyman was racing after them.

"I saw nothing in his behavior, I heard nothing that indicated any kind of aggressive behavior or anything like that," she told Public News Service. "Just simple, you know, trying to get somebody's attention and ask them a question. It seems to me there was no violation of anyone's space, or physicality, other than the arrest itself."

And, making matters worse, rather than admitting to over-aggressive enforcement, Price is cheering on the arrest:

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price on Wednesday commended police in West Virginia for “doing what they thought was appropriate” in arresting a journalist who shouted questions at him, but added that it wasn’t his call to say whether they took the proper measures.

Price said the reporter confronted him while he was walking down a hallway. “That gentleman was not in a press conference,” he said.

I'm curious if Price (or anyone else, for that matter) could point to where in the First Amendment there's a rule that says the press is only allowed to ask questions "at a press conference." That's not how it works. There's also this:

Asked Wednesday by STAT whether he thought Heyman should have been arrested, Price said: “That’s not my decision to make.”

Well, that's only partially true. Obviously, the local law enforcement gets to make that decision, but there's nothing stopping a competent public official from telling law enforcement to knock it off and to answer a few basic questions from a reporter.

In an era where we're hearing more and more about both attacks on a free press, as well as the need for a stronger press, these kinds of shenanigans should not be allowed. In the past, when we've covered police arresting reporters, the courts have come out repeatedly in favor of the reporters (that whole First Amendment thing still matters). But that's of little use in the moment when police are dragging reporters off to jail for shouting questions outside a press conference.

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  1. icon
    OA (profile), 11 May 2017 @ 9:51am

    A Broader Issue

    Incidents like this are broader, more connected and more serious than they appear:

    1. Increasingly, our nation as a society, seems to comfortably believe that to speak or be heard can only be done in narrow ways and with narrow timing if at all.

    2. We have large numbers of people who are mostly not heard and whose concerns are largely unrepresented. The responsibilities of both politicians and media are supposed to fall heavily in this area.

    3. Much of our popular culture effectively, when not willfully, "celebrates" the absence of invisible people.

    4. Membership in the invisible people club is accelerating, diversifying and pressuring in different "domains".

    5. Notice that some of the reaction to this incident is similar to popular attitudes on protests. We suppress the opportunities to speak, inquire and be heard. We create frustration and desperation. Then try to suppress and vilify the natural and inevitable responses.

    6. Problems like this are part of the spectrum of a single type of issue that I will refrain from labeling. Many of us "arbitrarily" object only at certain levels*. Due, in part, to this nation's "original sin" (which still has never been addressed) and that other manifestations of the issue are "useful". The Media helped grow the invisible class and are now being pressured to join it.


    *Whenever there is talk of another cop shooting of an unarmed black male there are plenty on the INTERNET who aggressively insist that being black is completely unimportant. Abuse against blacks by police is a very old issue. It was GUARANTEED to eventually spread outside of vulnerable minorities (for reasons that are outside the scope of this comment). ONLY after it spread did this "invisible issue" become outrageous. This spread also came with foolish and disingenuous comments like: "it's about class not race". Too many, in a wide variety of scenarios, think they can "solve" problems without correctly identifying them.

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