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Column

Assault on reporter assaults right to know

As they interview newsmakers, reporters represent the public. When a newsmaker assaults a reporter, he is really assaulting the public’s right to know. Such behavior is intolerable and must not be repeated.

When dog bites man, that’s not news. When man bites dog, that’s news.

The old saying has a new corollary after recent events in Montana.

When a reporter asks a newsmaker tough questions, that’s not news. It happens all the time.

However, when the newsmaker, tired of those questions, gets physically tough with a reporter, that’s news.

And it’s also a disturbing trend we believe must be stopped – now.

We speak of an incident May 24 where a reporter for The Guardian newspaper, Ben Jacobs, went into an office in Bozeman, Montana, where the Republican candidate for Montana’s only House seat, Greg Gianforte, was giving an interview to a Fox News reporter.

Jacobs began to ask Gianforte whether he supported the American Health Care Act, which perturbed Gianforte so much he began to struggle with Jacobs over Jacobs’ phone, which was being used as an audio recorder.

Gianforte can be heard on a recording saying he was “sick and tired of you guys” and to “get the hell out of here.”

Both then apparently fell to the floor. Jacobs said he was “body-slammed” by Gianforte, and that his glasses were broken.

Gianforte, who was charged with assault, went on to win a special election the next day over his Democratic opponent.

We only hope the election results aren’t an endorsement of Gianforte’s outrageous actions against a journalist.

It’s not only the assault on the Guardian’s reporter that concerns us.

It's the arrest of a journalist for asking a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in West Virginia several weeks ago.

It's the implication that journalists don't have a right to ask certain questions in certain settings.

It's the tacit approval of "journalists as enemies of the people" by voters and politicians.

The institution of journalism is, indeed, being threatened. And much of the public, instead of considering what this means to the future of democracy, is telling the media to "suck it up, buttercup." As if it's more important to be "tough" and take a punch than to stand up for the public's right to know. It's alarming.

The American Society of News Editors issued a statement after Gianforte’s assault on the reporter, the arrest of the reporter in West Virginia, and the forcible detention of a CQ Roll Call reporter by Federal Communications Commission security officers as he tried to ask questions of an FCC commissioner.

“The fact that Mr. Jacobs was attacked by the very politician he was trying to interview marks a uniquely disturbing moment in the treatment of journalists,” the ASNE stated.

ASNE President Mizell Stewart III had these comments:

“Words and actions have consequences. An assault on a journalist asking a simple question is inexcusable, but not surprising, given the continued attacks on the press from those in power. Far from ‘enemies of the American people,’ we stand strong as a watchdog for citizens and communities.”

The ASNE’s statement concludes:

“As the leaders of America’s newsrooms, ASNE is committed to protecting the rights of journalists to be free from physical harm, from threats and harassment, from arrest, and from any and all violations of the First Amendment.

“That is why today we go beyond simply condemning the actions of Greg Gianforte and the others who threaten press freedom and call on our elected officials, as well as the citizens who elect them, to forcefully speak out against such incursions.”

Reporters often find themselves in adversarial relationships with political candidates and elected officials.

Reporters ask questions that, sometimes, candidates and elected officials don’t want to answer.

But those reporters represent more than news organizations.

They represent the public.

They represent you.

They ask questions that you would ask, and then share the answers through news stories, so you can be informed of the truth.

Reporters have an obligation to be civil.

Those they question should be civil in return.

We repeat the sentiments of the ASNE: the attack on Mr. Jacobs “marks a uniquely disturbing moment in the treatment of journalists.”

It is a moment that must not be repeated.

The Tonica News

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