California Congressman Wants Attacking Journalists to Be Federal Crime

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Eric Swalwell

Rep. Eric Swalwell told THR that a recent threat against CNN staffers showed his bill is needed.

Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, who represents California's 15th Congressional District, wants legislators to do more than just use words to convey the importance of a free press. He's hoping the House of Representative will pass a bill he introduced on Monday, the Journalist Protection Act, which would make it a federal crime to harm a journalist in the field with the intent of impeding their work.

The safety and security of journalists has been top-of-mind throughout Donald Trump's presidency, and was ratcheted up in importance after a Michigan man was arrested and charged on Jan. 19 with threatening to kill CNN employees. (CNN president Jeff Zucker assured his employees that they were never at risk.)

Swalwell, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, said the bill was already in the works at the time of the arrest but that efforts were expedited. He said the threat against CNN "hastened the need" for his bill and validated the concern he and his co-sponsors have for members of the news media.

The bill announcement mentioned the president's decision to tweet, on July 2, a video that was edited to show him body-slamming and punching a person who had the CNN logo superimposed on them. Swalwell called the tweet "childish."

"It's the president of the United States, who has millions of followers and who is supposed to be the leader of our country doing it," he said. "I do fear that could embolden people themselves to take up violence against a journalist who they don't like."

But, Swalwell, who makes regular appearances across cable news, made clear that his bill is intended to protect journalists of all stripes. "I seek to protect the CNN journalist as much as I seek to protect the Fox News journalist," he said.

According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 44 journalists were attacked last year.

Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild-CWA, offered his support of the bill in a prepared statement. The bill, he said, should be embraced by "everyone who believes our democracy depends on a free and vibrant press."

Swalwell's bill stands little chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House, but he said he's hopeful it will attract bipartisan support.