Democrats in the House and Senate cited President Trump’s continuing attacks on the press as the impetus for reintroducing the Journalist Protection Act on Tuesday.
Offered by Rep. Eric Swalwell of California and Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the bicameral proposal would make it a federal crime to intentionally assault a journalist “in the course of reporting or in a manner designed to intimidate him or her from newsgathering.”
“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 Mr. Swalwell, a fourth-term congressman considering running against Mr. Trump in 2020.
“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,” Mr. Swalwell said in a statement. “That is what my bill, the Journalist Protection Act, would do.”
Dozens of journalists faced physical attacks while doing their job in 2018, and more than 20 newsrooms were on the receiving end of bogus bomb threats during that same span meant to disrupt their operations, said Melissa Wasser, the coalition director for News Media for Open Government, a group of news organizations that supports the bill.
“Not only is the role of the news media in our democracy under attack, but the safety of individual journalists is threatened,” said Ms. Wasser. “The Journalist Protection Act would not elevate journalists to a special status, but rather would ensure they receive the same protections if attacked while gathering and reporting the news.”
The president has made targeting the press part of his regular routine, frequently smearing media outlets as the “enemy of the people” and “fake news.” Critics have drawn links to his verbal assaults and real-life physical attacks of journalists: Ron Skeans, a cameraman for BBC, was assaulted while covering one of the president’s rallies last month by an attendee shortly after Mr. Trump spoke disparagingly about reporters.
“Under this administration, reporters face a near-constant barrage of verbal threats, casting the media as enemies of the American people and possible targets of violence,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “This bill makes clear that engaging in any kind of violence against members of the media will simply not be tolerated.”
Mr. Swalwell and Mr. Blumenthal previously introduced the Journalist Protection Act in early 2018, but the effort died in the Republican-controlled 115th Congress. Democrats have since taken control of the House, however, likely giving the latest bill a better chance at succeeding.
Mr. Trump has hardly abandoned the anti-press rhetoric that initially prompted the proposal more than a year ago, meanwhile. Ranting on Twitter early Wednesday about “Fake News,” Mr. Trump said the media is “only getting more deranged with time!”
Eleven members of Congress, all Democrats, have co-sponsored Mr. Swalwell’s renewed proposal since its introduction Tuesday. Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Menendez are so far the only sponsors of its Senate counterpart.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.
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