Democrats Want to Make It a Federal Crime to Intimidate and Attack Journalists

President Donald Trump has fueled a hostile climate toward journalists in America who now need extra protection to carry out their jobs free from intimidation and violence, said Democrats on Monday as they proposed a new law to protect reporters.

A group of 13 congressional Democrats are sponsoring the Journalist Protection Act, which would make it a federal crime to intentionally injure a journalist or intimidate reporters while they’re working.

“President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration have created a toxic atmosphere,” said California Representative Eric Swalwell, who sits on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, in a release announcing the bill.

02_06_TrumpSupporter A man wears a shirt reading "Rope. Tree. Journalist." Supporters were gathered to rally with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a cargo hangar at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport in Minneapolis on November 6, 2016. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Swalwell cited several threats and incidents of violence in the past year as evidence that Trump’s rhetoric against the media has fueled a rise in violence.

Last month a man was arrested for calling the Atlanta offices of CNN and threatening to gun down its employees “in a matter of hours” and referred to the network as “fake news”—a frequent accusation leveled at the network by Trump.

Just before Christmas last year Trump retweeted a doctored image of himself with a blood-spattered CNN logo crushed beneath his shoe. He has also retweeted doctored images of himself body-slamming the network and of the “Trump Train” running it over.

In a private meeting with former FBI Director James Comey early last year, Trump reportedly told him to throw journalists in jail for reporting leaks. The president has also called reporters “the enemy of the American People” and “a stain on America.”

“Such antagonistic communications help encourage others to think, regardless of their views, that violence against people engaged in journalism is more acceptable,” said Swalwell.

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The president’s rhetoric has all too often turned into action by his supporters. Last year, Montana Republican Greg Gianforte was sentenced to community service after he pleaded guilty to assault after he was accused of body-slamming a reporter from The Guardian who was asking him questions.

Trump supporters at a Make America Great Again rally in California last March were accused of attacking reporters from the OC Weekly. A journalist for The Hill was assaulted last August at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump said there were some “very fine people” among the right-wing marchers and counter-protesters.

Last month Trump handed out a series of “fake news” awards to media outlets, including Newsweek, CNN, and The New York Times.

“It’s not just about labeling reports of his constant falsehoods as #FakeNews—it’s his casting of media personalities and outlets as anti-American targets, and encouraging people to engage in violence,” said Swalwell, who pointed out that the president’s supporters are not the only ones who have attacked journalists.

A recent poll by Gallup shows that Americans—and especially Republicans—are increasingly losing faith in the media.

Early this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a freedom of the press advocacy group, awarded Trump a prize for “undermining global press freedom.” The group said the president’s attacks on the press were not only being felt at home but around the world in authoritarian regimes.

“At least 44 reporters were physically attacked in the U.S. last year and angry rhetoric that demonizes reporters persists,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild, a division of the Communications Workers of America.

“The threatening atmosphere is palpable,” Lunzer said. “The Journalist Protection Act deserves the support of everyone who believes our democracy depends on a free and vibrant press.”

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