Re­porters say they are be­ing roughed up. Ob­servers point to Trump.

The Washington Post - - STYLE - BY PAUL FARHI

A re­porter asks a politi­cian a ques­tion — and al­legedly gets at­tacked for do­ing his job. There’s even an au­dio record­ing of the in­ci­dent.

While it sounds like the al­leged as­sault on Guardian re­porter Ben Ja­cobs by Mon­tana con­gres­sional can­di­date Greg Gian­forte on Wed­nes­day, the episode in ques­tion ac­tu­ally oc­curred three weeks ago in Alaska, part of what may be a ris­ing trend of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence against jour­nal­ists.

Re­porter Nathaniel Herz of the Alaska Dis­patch News said he was ques­tion­ing state Sen. David Wil­son (R-Wasilla) in the capi­tol build­ing in Juneau on May 2 when the leg­is­la­tor turned and slapped Herz across the face. Herz, who recorded the con­fronta­tion, filed a re­port with the Juneau Po­lice De­part­ment, which has turned the case over to the state’s Of­fice of Spe­cial Pros­e­cu­tion. It was the first of four in­ci­dents in­volv­ing re­porters and pub­lic of­fi­cials in the past month.

Gian­forte’s al­leged body-slam­ming of Ja­cobs on Wed­nes­day night — which re­sulted in a mis­de­meanor as­sault charge against the Repub­li­can can­di­date — came less than a week af­ter CQ Roll Call re­porter John Don­nelly said he was pinned against a wall by se­cu­rity guards at the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion as he sought to ques­tion agency of­fi­cials. The FCC has apol­o­gized re­peat­edly for its treat­ment of Don­nelly.

Sep­a­rately, re­porter Dan Hey­man of the Pub­lic News Ser­vice was hand­cuffed and ar­rested on May 9 as he tried to ques­tion Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price and pres­i­den­tial ad­viser Kellyanne Con­way in the West Vir­ginia state capi­tol. Af­ter Con­way and Price de­clined to re­spond to his re­peated ques­tions, Hey­man was charged with “will­ful dis­rup­tion of gov­ern­ment pro­cesses” by po­lice. He spent seven hours in jail be­fore be­ing re­leased.

In the Gian­forte in­ci­dent, the can­di­date’s cam­paign specif­i­cally la­beled Ja­cobs a “lib­eral re­porter” and ar­gued that he “ag­gres­sively shoved a recorder in [Gian­forte’s] face.” Ja­cobs and eye­wit­nesses re­but­ted Gian­forte’s ac­count of events.

Press ad­vo­cates see an in­creas­ing cli­mate of anger, dis­re­spect and hos­til­ity aimed at the me­dia from the pub­lic and elected of­fi­cials. And they gen­er­ally blame Pres­i­dent Trump for rhetoric that has made at­tacks, ver­bal and oth­er­wise, more com­mon and

even ac­cept­able.

Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump banned re­porters who dis­pleased him from cam­paign events, re­peat­edly de­mo­nized jour­nal­ists as pur­vey­ors of “fake news” and some­times called them out by name in front of jeer­ing crowds. Re­porters who cov­ered him re­peat­edly de­scribed a sense of im­mi­nent vi­o­lence — and some­times ac­tual vi­o­lence — at his ral­lies.

His cam­paign man­ager, Corey Le­wandowski, yanked the arm of a re­porter seek­ing to ask Trump ques­tions at an event; Le­wandowski de­nied bruis­ing the re­porter un­til a video­tape emerged show­ing him in the act. (Po­lice ul­ti­mately dropped the bat­tery charge.)

As pres­i­dent, Trump has called main­stream news or­ga­ni­za­tions “en­e­mies of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.” He also re­port­edly urged then-FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey to jail jour­nal­ists for pub­lish­ing un­flat­ter­ing in­for­ma­tion based on leaks from ad­min­is­tra­tion sources.

Trump’s ver­bal at­tacks led the press-ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion Re­porters Without Bor­ders to lower the United States’ stand­ing in its an­nual in­ter­na­tional press-free­dom in­dex. It ranked the United States 43rd out of 180 na­tions in its sur­vey, plac­ing it two spots lower than a year ear­lier and rank­ing the United States just be­hind Burk­ina Faso for gov­ern­ment re­stric­tions and threats against the news me­dia.

“The elec­tion of the 45th pres­i­dent of the United States set off a witch­hunt against jour­nal­ists,” it said. “Don­ald Trump’s re­peated di­a­tribes against the Fourth Es­tate and its rep­re­sen­ta­tives — ac­cus­ing them of be­ing ‘among the most dis­hon­est hu­man be­ings on earth’ and of de­lib­er­ately spread­ing ‘fake news’ — com­pro­mise a long U.S. tra­di­tion of de­fend­ing free­dom of ex­pres­sion.”

It added that Trump’s “hate speech” helped un­leash at­tacks on the me­dia “al­most ev­ery­where in the world,” in­clud­ing in coun­tries with long demo­cratic tra­di­tions, such as Bri­tain, France and Italy.

“There is def­i­nitely a di­rect cor­re­la­tion be­tween more ag­gres­sive rhetoric to­ward the press and this shock­ing in­ci­dent,” Del­phine Hal­gand, the group’s North Amer­i­can direc­tor, said in an in­ter­view, re­fer­ring to the Mon­tana episode. “When you hear peo­ple at the high­est lev­els in­sult­ing and tar­get­ing [ jour­nal­ists], it’s not a sur­prise that other politi­cians turn these words to­ward vi­o­lence. We’ve reached a new level in this game of war against the news me­dia.”

The Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists said Thurs­day that Gian­forte’s al­leged as­sault of Ja­cobs “sends an unacceptab­le sig­nal that phys­i­cal as­sault is an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse to un­wanted ques­tion­ing by a journalist.”

The Na­tional Press Club’s pres­i­dent, Jeff Bal­lou, called Trump’s state­ments “part and par­cel of a pat­tern that has been hap­pen­ing to jour­nal­ists.” Pres­i­dents Ge­orge W. Bush and Barack Obama crit­i­cized and even in­dicted jour­nal­ists, he said, “but this pres­i­dent is upfront about [his hos­til­ity]. He has set an ex­am­ple that has given a li­cense to peo­ple to have an open season on jour­nal­ists.”

While phys­i­cal at­tacks against jour­nal­ists are rel­a­tively rare in Amer­i­can his­tory, they aren’t un­known. Per­haps most in­fa­mously, Ari­zona Repub­lic in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter Don Bolles was killed in 1976 in a car bomb­ing linked to his re­port­ing on or­ga­nized crime.

In a lesser-known in­ci­dent, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) phys­i­cally at­tacked syn­di­cated news­pa­per colum­nist Drew Pear­son in the cloak­room of a Washington so­cial club one night in 1950, re­called me­dia his­to­rian W. Joseph Camp­bell of Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity. McCarthy was peeved over Pear­son’s col­umns at­tack­ing him as a bully and dem­a­gogue for his cru­sade to root out com­mu­nist sym­pa­thiz­ers in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. (The fight was bro­ken up by a young se­na­tor named Richard Nixon.)

McCarthy wasn’t charged, but Pear­son may have ul­ti­mately had the last word, notes Camp­bell. McCarthy was cen­sured by the Se­nate in 1954, one of the few to be dis­ci­plined this way, amid re­lent­lessly neg­a­tive cov­er­age by Pear­son and other jour­nal­ists.


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