In 2018, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker reported 42 journalists were physically attacked and five were killed simply for working to keep their communities informed.
That kind of news has prompted RTDNA to intensify its efforts to promote press freedom at the state level – seeking to provide protections for reporters doing their jobs amid the cries of “enemy of the American people” and “F*** (your media name here)” being heard more and more across the country.
Just yesterday, we reported on a Coast Guard lieutenant attested by the FBI who reportedly had dreams of mass murder with working journalists high on his list of targets.
Christopher Paul Hasson had a “hit list” of well known media personalities and officials, including CNN journalists Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo and Van Jones, as well as Joe Scarborough and Chris Hayes from MSNBC.
As reported by RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley, “Once diplomatic dislike for our work from some viewers, listeners and readers has grown to a substantial loss of trust in the media. This crisis of trust has opened the door to bitter hatred and unchecked physical provocation.”
Shelley points to several proactive developments at the state level to extend protections to working journalists.
In South Dakota, we have worked to help draft a shield law to allow journalists to protect information and sources. The bill was approved by House lawmakers and is now headed to the state’s Senate.
From personal experience, we can say that South Dakota has a sad history of nontransparent and obstructive governance that has been underscored by numerous instances of officials’ bullying of reporters trying to do their jobs.
This is a start.
In Montana, we have vigorously supported state Rep. Tom Woods’ bill that would increase tenfold the penalty for assaulting a journalist. Our support of this bill is an effort to stand up for reporters like the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs who was physically assaulted by then-congressional candidate Greg Gianforte in 2017.
Sadly, the people of Montana demonstrated their concern by electing Gianforte to Congress.
In Missouri, we are standing up for the state’s Sunshine Law that protects the public’s ability to ask for information from government agencies. Hiding behind taxpayer burden, legislators are in the process of stripping one of the strongest open records laws in the country.
The contempt for the notion of open government is one that grows around the country.
Politicians feed the distrust of media and then use that distrust to drop a veil of secrecy around its operations.
The country deserves better.