First Amendment Statement from Mark Hamrick, president, SABEW, Washington Bureau Chief for 

Posted By Crystal Beasley on Tuesday November 14, 2017

The shocking alleged, but well-documented, attack of a reporter by Republican Greg Gianforte is an affront to the First Amendment, running counter to the ideals associated with civil discourse in a robust democracy. The reporter was asking a question about proposed health care legislation. Candidates for Congress, and other offices, must be prepared for scrutiny and questions from reporters, or else they should not attempt to enter public service at all. This is what distinguishes democracy from totalitarian regimes.

Equally unacceptable is the campaign’s statement making reference to the reporter as being “liberal,” seeming to suggest that a possibly contrary political viewpoint is worthy of a physical attack. Upon news of his election, Gianforte offered an apology, clearly at odds with the earlier campaign statement.

This fits into a pattern of verbal insults, abuse and physical confrontations seen during Donald Trump’s campaign when journalists had to seek protection from unruly supporters. Recently, a respected journalist covering the otherwise mundane Federal Communications Commission in Washington was manhandled for simply asking a question. He was given an apology, but only after a large public outcry.

Our elected leaders need to first understand and then communicate to the American public that journalists fulfill a vital role in our democracy. To fail to do so suggests that they are agnostic or even hostile to the truth.

When the president and/or his advisers use language like “enemy of the people” and “opposition party” to describe the news media, many sympathizers equate that with permission to verbally harass and physically confront or attack journalists. This cannot go on.

We know from survey work that journalists and politicians are held in equally low regard by the American public, both garnering relatively little confidence. Ultimately, we are dependent on both government and journalism for our system to succeed or even thrive. Unfortunately, some Americans have a hard time distinguishing between legitimate sources of information and those engaged in disseminating only opinion or disinformation. In some ways, rapid advances in technology have contributed to this risk of confusion, suggesting we have more work to do in affirming the value of credible journalism.

Mark Hamrick
SABEW president
Senior economic analyst, Washington bureau chief

SABEW - Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication,
Arizona State University

555 North Central Ave, Suite 406 E, Phoenix, AZ 85004-1248

E-mail: [email protected]

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