A bill being proposed in Congress has some journalists in a dither, and reports about the measure vividly illustrate how parsing words and shading meaning have become political games in Washington. More from MTSU Professor of Journalism Dr. Larry Burris:
The proposed law makes it a federal crime to do either of two things: physically assault a reporter so as to prevent them from doing their jobs, or, physically assault a journalist with an intent to intimidate them so they won't report on a story.
Notice the crucial distinction here: the law does not deal with simply intimidating a reporter, there must be a physical assault that results in intimidation.
But almost all of the headlines I read in conservative media about the measure imply, or actually state, there are two parts to the measure: assault or intimidation.
For example, one headline read, "Democrats Want to Make It a Federal Crime to Intimidate and Attack Journalists." Another stated, "Dem law takes aim at Trump, makes 'intimidating' journalists a federal crime."
In both of these cases it appears the headlines are saying the bill prohibits simply intimidating a reporter, which is absurd. In fact, I really wonder how much it would actually take to "intimidate" a reporter?
After all, President Trump has talked loudly and often about what he sees distortions and outright lies in news stories. But remember, it is Congress, not the president, that passes laws, and I have seen no action to actually pass legislation that would limit the press.
Given the current political climate in Washington, my guess is some media outlets are intentionally misrepresenting the bill so as to make it look like the Democrats are trying to prevent discussion of an important public issue, namely how journalists cover the government.
We already have laws making assault a crime, and I don't know that we need another one, even it is supposedly designed to protect journalists.