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: bob menendez, eric walwell, extra crimes, journalism, journalism protection act, journalists lives matter, protection, richard blumenthal


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Mar 2019 @ 6:54pm

    Sub Rosa Reasons

    Isn't this just an underhanded way for the government to try to define who is and who is not a journalist? Accepting that it is the activity rather than the person or organization or method of distribution seems really hard for those with the thirst for power and control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 1:43am

      Re: Sub Rosa Reasons

      They have already done this.

      I think it's a good law.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 1:58am

        Re: Re: Sub Rosa Reasons

        "I think it's a good law."

        Why?

        Specifically, what does it achieve that existing assault laws do not?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 2:26am

          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?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 2:38am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Sub Rosa Reasons

            I honestly can't tell if you're being serious or not, but the fact that you apparently missed the Animal Farm reference lower down and/or took it as a good thing does not bode well...

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 3:47am

            For what reason does someone’s choice in career — and to be clear, it is a choice to become a police officer or firefighter or journalist — automatically make them deserving of special protections under the law?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 3:53am

            Re: 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."

            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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 7:01am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 29 Mar 2019 @ 4:18am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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...

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 7:03am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Bamboo Harvester (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 7:19am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 29 Mar 2019 @ 4:21am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 7:59am

        Re: Re: Sub Rosa Reasons

        They have already done what? Define who is or isn't a journalists? What law was that? My search may have been inadequate but I only came up with discussion about shield laws, which are by the states, not the feds, and those do not identify the 'nature' of journalist.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2019 @ 3:20pm

      Re: Sub Rosa Reasons

      This is the law of the land saying if anyone is going to assault journalists, we want the first shot at it. That's the obvious interpretation!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 27 Mar 2019 @ 8:10pm

    Greg Gianforte notwithstanding?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2019 @ 8:28pm

    Equal protection and justice under the law. Some animals are more equal than others.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 2:27am

      Re:

      Most definitely, and that will always be the case.

      Why am I supposed to care about this? My time is valuable (to me).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Madd the Sane (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 3:23am

        Four legs good, two legs bad -> Four legs good, two legs better

        I take it you haven't read "Animal Farm" by George Orwell.

        If you have /r/whoosh.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 3:48am

        My time is valuable (to me).

        Then maybe you should spend less of it letting people know how much you don’t care about things. Because no one gives a shit about your performative apathy.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 8:03am

        Re: Re:

        Why am I supposed to care about this? My time is valuable (to me).

        Protip: If you ever find yourself reading an article on the Internet, and wondering "Should I post a comment to tell everyone how much I don't care about the thing the article is about?", the answer is "No." It is always "No."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    rangda (profile), 27 Mar 2019 @ 9:34pm

    Presumably this law only extends protections if said journalists are assaulted by members of the public. I assume that law enforcement will be free to continue their assault on journalists as (allegedly) occurred in Ferguson.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Atkray (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 12:39am

      Re:

      One would think this law was to protect journalists from law enforcement.

      Apparently that is not the case.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 2:02am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Dan (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 8:34am

        Re: Re:

        One would think this law was to protect journalists from law enforcement.

        ...and that would even kind of make sense. It would even be within legitimate Federal authority. But no, pretty sure that isn't what's going on here.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 27 Mar 2019 @ 9:58pm

    "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."

    If only we had laws in place already to deal with assaulting journalists...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 3:56am

      Re:

      "If only we had laws in place already to deal with assaulting journalists..."

      You need to put an /s at the end of that so people know you're being sarcastic. Baghdad Bob/Bobmail/Blue/Jhon already proved that to a very few people what you just said as a joke they believe in earnest.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 27 Mar 2019 @ 10:57pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 2:27am

      Re: Easy way to fix this

      We already have 42 USC 1983 for that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 7:00am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 10:20am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Bamboo Harvester (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 11:05am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 12:24pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Bamboo Harvester (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 1:06pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 3:08am

    So basically cops with blogs will be the highest class citizen?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 6:39am

    Does this apply to cops?

    Or do they still get a pass?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Slow Joe Crow, 28 Mar 2019 @ 8:09am

    It's interesting that the Twitter inanity is coming from Eric Swalwell, most recently famous for wanting to nuke gun owners. Apparently Rep. Swalwell's Dunning-Kruger extends to the 1st Amendment, as well as the 2nd.
    This feels like a muddled mix of anti Trump virtue signaling and backdoor press restrictions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 29 Mar 2019 @ 4:27am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 8:15am

    So..

    if "paparazzi" are considered journalists, does that mean we'll see lots of celebrities in jail for punching them outside of nightclubs?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 8:32am

      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...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 8:57am

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 9:30am

    Compounded Hate Crimes

    So is it now like a double life sentence for assaulting a gay, trans, Christian, black, female, reporter, working on the police force?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 11:51am

    What one hand gives...

    Yes, if you hurt a journalist, you will get that enhancement. But, if the politicians get their way, soon there will be no journalists anyway. See? No problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TRX, 28 Mar 2019 @ 12:10pm

    This is the same Swallwell who threatened to attack lawful American gun owners with nuclear weapons.

    "Seems legit..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 28 Mar 2019 @ 1:44pm

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 29 Mar 2019 @ 6:05am

      Re: Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges*

      Aptly put.

      Overlexification is the first symptom that a civilization has reached and passed its heyday.
      Stratification by law is the second.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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