Rough Treatment of Journalists in the Trump Era
For those concerned about press freedom, the first months of the Trump administration have been troubling. Journalists have been yelled at, pepper-sprayed, pinned by security and even arrested on the job. Now, one reporter has accused a Republican candidate of assault.
Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the recent episodes were not enough to make any sweeping statements about the way journalists are being treated since President Trump took office.
“But what’s certainly unprecedented in modern American history is the rhetoric: the way that Trump talks about the media, the constant verbal attacks and the framing of journalists as enemies and purveyors of fake news,” he said.
Mr. Simon said the committee was gathering data to identify trends and patterns. He said the assault case was particularly alarming. “This incident in Montana — I mean, just based on what we know at this point — I can’t recall anything quite like that,” he said.
On Wednesday night, Ben Jacobs, a journalist for The Guardian, said he was “body slammed” by Greg Gianforte, a Republican candidate in a special House election, at a campaign event in Montana.
It was the last night of a closely watched campaign, and Mr. Jacobs pressed Mr. Gianforte to answer a question about health care. In a recording of the exchange, the sounds of a physical struggle and a crash can be heard, followed by Mr. Gianforte saying: “I’m sick and tired of you guys!”
”You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Mr. Jacobs said.
Mr. Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault.
Last week, John M. Donnelly, a journalist for CQ Roll Call, said he was pinned against a wall by security workers in Washington as he tried to ask a question of Michael P. O’Rielly, a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission.
Two plainclothes security workers used their backs to keep him against the wall and away from Mr. O’Rielly, Mr. Donnelly said.
“There was absolutely nothing in my countenance that could be perceived as a threat,” Mr. Donnelly said. “I think they interpreted that I was going to ask a question, and they were determined to stop it.” Mr. O’Rielly later apologized on social media.
On May 9, Dan Heyman, a journalist for the Public News Service who has worked as a freelancer for The New York Times, was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor after he tried to question Tom Price, the secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, in West Virginia.
Mr. Heyman tried to approach Mr. Price while asking a question about pre-existing conditions under the health care bill that had recently passed in the House. The criminal complaint against him said he “tried aggressively to breach the security of the Secret Service” and was “causing a disturbance by yelling questions.” He was held in jail for several hours before his organization posted $5,000 bail. No trial date has been set.
• Last week, Melanie Plenda, a freelance journalist working for The Associated Press, faced criticism from Republicans and a torrent of personal attacks online after she reported on a New Hampshire G.O.P. fund-raiser that was meant to be closed to the media. The Associated Press later posted a correction saying the number of people at the event had been underreported.
• In March, journalists working for OC Weekly, a newspaper in Orange County, Calif., said they were attacked and exposed to pepper spray while caught up in altercations between supporters andprotesters at a pro-Trump rally. The journalists “got harassed by Trump supporters, then shoved and punched when they tried to defend one another,” Gustavo Arellano, the editor of the paper, said in a statement.
• In April, a journalist for the local news television station KLAS-TV was arrested in Las Vegas while covering a protest against Mr. Trump. Police said the arrest was for trespassing, The Associated Press reported.
• On Jan. 20, the day of Mr. Trump’s inauguration, at least six journalists at protests that turned violent were charged with felony rioting. Charges were dropped against all but two by the end of the month.