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house Bill H.R. 1684

Should Assaulting a Journalist Be a Federal Crime?

Argument in favor

Anti-journalist rhetoric is out of control and by making it a federal crime to assault a journalist this bill would send a clear message that such violence won’t be tolerated.

Anne's Opinion
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06/09/2019
Journalists put themselves on the line to bring us firsthand knowledge of events and newspapers-worthy circumstances. Sometimes this can turn contentious and violent. We need this extra protection so they continue to do their jobs safely.
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Lois's Opinion
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06/09/2019
While assault of anyone is already a crime, there has been an increase in hate crimes toward journalists who are attempting to film or take notes at rallies, so we need to make it a Federal crime, since sometimes the local authorities seem reluctant to prosecute this type of assault.
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Mark 's Opinion
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06/09/2019
Yup, especially if it’s done by an idiot running for Congress, hear that Montana??
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Argument opposed

Assault is already a crime that states enforce, and there’s no apparent wave of violence against journalists. This bill is purely an attempt to score political points.

Howard 's Opinion
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06/09/2019
You cannot make special classes for anyone under the law. One set of laws for everyone regardless of sex color national origin status in life occupation etc.
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Raymond 's Opinion
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06/09/2019
I’m pretty sure assault is a crime already. Doesn’t matter who you are. How about assault with lying about a person to damage their reputation? Or lying in Print or on line. The media has been LYING about President Trump now for over two years. When are we going to get an apology from CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS For their COLLUSION to destroy President Trump?? And the Democrat that keeps bringing this bill up should quit being led by the Hate Trump Media.
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Jill's Opinion
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06/09/2019
Some journalists commit assaults trying to “get the story”. A bill is another waste, as it does nothing for the other party.
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What is House Bill H.R. 1684?

This bill — the Journalist Protection Act — would make assault against journalists a federal crime if the assault is committed while the journalist is news-gathering or done to intimidate or impede news-gathering by the journalist. Causing bodily injury to a journalist would be punishable by up to three years imprisonment and fines, while serious bodily injury would be punished by up to six years imprisonment and fines.

Impact

Journalists who are assaulted and their attackers; and the judicial system.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 1684

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) rentroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to make it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist affecting interstate or foreign commerce in the course of reporting, or in a manner designed to intimidate them from newsgathering for a media organization: 

“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. A healthy democracy depends on a free press unencumbered by threats of violence. 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. That is what my bill, the Journalist Protection Act, would do.”

Rep. Swalwell originally introduced this bill last Congress to make a federal crime of certain attacks on journalists reporting the news:

“President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration have created a toxic atmosphere. It’s not just about labelling 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.Not all attacks on journalists this year have been committed by Trump supporters, but the fact remains that rhetoric emanating from the world’s most powerful office is stoking an environment in which these attacks proliferate. We must send a loud, clear message that such violence won’t be tolerated.”

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) supports this bill. TheNewsGuild's president, Bernie Lunzer, says

“American journalists are facing assaults, threats, intimidation and even murder simply for fulfilling their First Amendment duties by reporting the news. The Journalist Protection Act strengthens the free press that’s essential to our democracy.”

In a column for The Daily Signal, Amy Swearer — a visiting legal fellow at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation — wrote in opposition to this bill:

“While the president has occasionally spoken out harshly against the media, he has not deviated from previous administrations in his legal treatment of them. The press has not been restricted in any substantive way, and the First Amendment remains a shining example of liberty even as countries like France move to suppress anything the government deems 'fake news.' The federal criminal code is already dangerously broad and complex, and there is no need to add a toothless statute that duplicates vigorously enforced state laws and amounts to little more than political pandering. This is particularly so when, like the Journalist Protection Act, the statute is a solution in need of a problem.”

This bill has 13 Democratic House cosponsors in the 116th Congress. A Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), has been introduced with the support of one cosponsor, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

In the 115th Congress, this bill had the support of 12 Democratic House cosponsors and didn't  receive a committee vote. The Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sens. Blumenthal and Menendez, also didn't see committee action.

The News Media Alliance, Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA)San Francisco Chronicle, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)Communications Workers of America (CWA) and News Media for Open Government, a broad coalition of news media and journalism organizations working to ensure that laws, policies and practices preserve and protect freedom of the press, open government and the free flow of information in our democratic society, support this bill.


Of Note: Rep. Swalwell's office contends that "before and since taking office, President Trump has blatantly stoked a climate of extreme hostility toward the press" by calling the press "the enemy of the American people" and describing mainstream media outlets as "a stain on America." He's also called the media an "enemy of the state."

There have been a number of recent physical attacks and threats against American journalists. They include: 

  • A San Francisco-based local news crew was robbed at gunpoint early in the evening on Feb. 24, 2019, while covering the Oakland teachers’ strike.
  • A BBC cameraman filming a rally featuring President Donald Trump was assaulted by a man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap on Feb. 11, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.
  • Five people were murdered at The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, by a gunman who blasted his way into the newsroom on June 28, 2018. Four journalists and a sales assistant were killed.
  • A reporter for KRCRNews Channel 7 was attacked while broadcasting a Facebook Live event from the scene of a mass overdose in Chico, California, on Jan. 12, 2019.
  • A man in Portland, Oregon, was indicted on charges that he stalked and harassed Therese Bottomly, editor of The Oregonian/OregonLive, on Jan. 29, 2019. The man repeatedly states that Bottomly published false information.
  • In October 2018, pipe bombs were sent to Democratic politicians and to the offices of CNN.

As a result of these and other incidents as well as the president's rhetoric, Reporters Without Borders dropped the U.S. ranking in its annual World Press Freedom Index from 43 to 45 out of 180 countries. The ranking first fell in 2017, after President Trump labeled the press an "enemy of the people" — a phrase that was also used by Josef Stalin. In its report, Reporters Without Borders noted

“The violent anti-press rhetoric from the White House has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask public officials questions. Reporters have even been subject to physical assault while on the job."

Media:

Summary by Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: microgen / iStock)

AKA

Journalist Protection Act

Official Title

To amend title 18, United States Code, to provide a penalty for assault against journalists, and for other purposes.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
      Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security
    IntroducedMarch 12th, 2019
    Journalists put themselves on the line to bring us firsthand knowledge of events and newspapers-worthy circumstances. Sometimes this can turn contentious and violent. We need this extra protection so they continue to do their jobs safely.
    Like (124)
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    You cannot make special classes for anyone under the law. One set of laws for everyone regardless of sex color national origin status in life occupation etc.
    Like (135)
    Follow
    Share
    While assault of anyone is already a crime, there has been an increase in hate crimes toward journalists who are attempting to film or take notes at rallies, so we need to make it a Federal crime, since sometimes the local authorities seem reluctant to prosecute this type of assault.
    Like (63)
    Follow
    Share
    Some journalists commit assaults trying to “get the story”. A bill is another waste, as it does nothing for the other party.
    Like (57)
    Follow
    Share
    I’m pretty sure assault is a crime already. Doesn’t matter who you are. How about assault with lying about a person to damage their reputation? Or lying in Print or on line. The media has been LYING about President Trump now for over two years. When are we going to get an apology from CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS For their COLLUSION to destroy President Trump?? And the Democrat that keeps bringing this bill up should quit being led by the Hate Trump Media.
    Like (57)
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    Yup, especially if it’s done by an idiot running for Congress, hear that Montana??
    Like (49)
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    I think that it should be because they are for the most part first responders. They travel everywhere to do their jobs and are following the First Amendment so like any other they should be better protected by law.
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    With such a large, emotional faction who think that every news source is #fakenews expect for FOX pundits and Rush Limbaugh- this protection is absolutely warranted. Trump puts free press reporters at risk with all of his unsubstantiated claims of “deep-State-Conspiracy”, “fake news”, and “evil-incarnate Clinton inspired coop” rants. Federal protection is warranted. If we had leadership that accepted societal norms, I might argue differently.
    Like (34)
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    And whistleblower protections!
    Like (32)
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    We have laws covering assault. Journalists are just people like the rest of us. However, many makeup fake news stories to pad their political beliefs.
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    Journalists are protected by the First Amendment and I believe there SHOULD be a FEDERAL law to distinguish that.
    Like (31)
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    I worked in that business. There are plenty of journos who need a good spanking.
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    They don’t hold a federal office. Should be the same as for anyone else
    Like (24)
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    Although there are laws against assault already, the constant administration calling legitimate news “fake” and referring to the press as “the enemy of the people” poses a serious additional threat to journalists trying to gather information on issues essential to support of the rule of law, an informed population, and reality-based decision making. Because of this elevated threat, I strongly support this bill.
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    The press is specifically mentioned in the Constitution and their jobs take them across state lines. So, yes
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    Assault and violence are already crimes that are punishable with fines and jail time. This particular rhetoric appears to be a jab at the president voicing the mainstream media as being fake news. While I don’t advocate for violence on journalists I also don’t advocate disrespect of the president that has been openly proliferated by the mainstream media. What and how Acosta behaved in a White House Press Conference resulting in his having his rights removed to cover news WAS appropriate. His press badge should not have been given back to him and he should have been banned permanently. Likewise, Maxine Waters encouraged harassment and violence on people in the Trump Administration and ultimately all conservatives resulting in the need for bodyguards for Sarah Sanders and her family. That is the very epitome of abuse and Waters has not received ANY reprimand or punishment for her actions! Why not?? Is it because she is a Democrat or Black or both?? WHY is she above the law?? Anyone else would have been fined and jailed.
    Like (22)
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    With a president constantly verbally assaulting all media (except for the ones that suck up to him), we need some kind of protection for a free press. Mitch McConnell will never even allow this to come to a vote in the senate
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    No. A crime is a crime and assault is already a crime. There is no need for special laws.
    Like (20)
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    Yes and it should apply to verbal assault !!!
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    Journalists are not a special protected class of citizen. Some journalists bring it on themselves.
    Like (19)
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