Following reports that a violent parody video depicting President Trump murdering a bunch of journalists was shown at a pro-Trump conference over the weekend, Democrats are calling on Congress to make it a federal crime to threaten or attack members of the media.
To that end, they are revisiting the Journalist Protection Act, which was announced last year.
“I offered this bill last session, before any of these videos surfaced,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D–Conn.) in a recent interview. “It is a priority for me to protect news gathering operations, no matter what their form.”
Blumenthal explained that the proposed bill would address “the continuing threat of physical violence, whether by guns or other means,” against members of the press. His bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D–N.J.), and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif.) has sponsored the House version.
The Journalist Protection Act is a bad idea, for a number of reasons.
First, it should be noted that the anti-media sentiment expressed in the Trump parody video is protected speech. It’s vile and offensive, but clearly satire—not a true threat of violence against anyone. The person who digitally transformed the infamous church shootout scene from Kingsman: The Secret Service into a Trumpian Battle Royale is protected by the First Amendment, and any attempt to criminalize such expression would be unlikely to survive judicial scrutiny.
The House version of the bill doesn’t actually attempt to criminalize mere threats. Instead, it establishes “journalist” as a protected class, and defines the category very broadly as “anyone engaging in regular gathering, preparation, collection, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing concerning a local, national, or international event or other matter of public interest.” Causing bodily injury to a journalist carries a penalty of three to six years in prison.
Harvard lawprof Adrian Vermeule gets what this is really about:
Spoiler: They’ll find or create an exception so that journalists who lean right won’t be protected.