Local U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) introduced legislation on Monday that would make certain attacks on news reporters a federal crime.
Specifically, the so-called "Journalist Protection Act" would make it a federal crime to purposefully cause bodily harm to a journalist affecting interstate or foreign commerce in the course of reporting or in a way intended to intimidate them from news-gathering for a media organization.
Swalwell said the Democrat-sponsored legislation was borne from the Trump administration, in his eyes, fostering a hostile and anti-media environment throughout the country.
"President Donald Trump's campaign and administration have created a toxic atmosphere," said Swalwell, whose district includes Pleasanton. "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."
Swalwell cited a handful of violent incidents against journalists as inspiration for the bill, including an assault against OC Weekly journalists at a "Make America Great Again" rally in March, a reporter being punched in the face at the infamous August protests in Charlottesville, Va., and a blogger in Joplin, Mo. attacked in September.
He also argued Trump's personal behavior has been setting a dangerous precedent, through actions like describing mainstream media outlets as "the enemy of the American People" and tweeting a GIF video of himself body-slamming a person with the CNN logo superimposed on their face.
"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," Swalwell said. "We must send a loud, clear message that such violence won't be tolerated."
The bill received support from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and News Media for Open Government, a coalition of news media organizations that advocate for the free flow of information and freedom of the press.
"This is a dangerous time to be a journalist," said Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild, a division of the CWA. "At least 44 reporters were physically attacked in the U.S. last year and angry rhetoric that demonizes reporters persists."
"Online harassment of journalists has included death threats and threats of sexual and other physical violence," added Rick Blum, director of News Media for Open Government. "Taken together, it is clear that not only is the role of the news media in our democracy under attack, but the safety of individual journalists is threatened. It's time to reverse course. Physical violence and intimidation should never get in the way of covering police, protesters, presidents and other public matters."
The Journalist Protection Act is co-sponsored by Ro Khanna (D-Santa Clara), Grace Napolitano (D-Los Angeles), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D- Washington, D.C.), Andre Carson (D-Indiana), Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan), Darren Soto (D-Florida), Jose Serrano (D-New York), Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) and Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin).