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Is contempt of journalists really a new phenomenon?

Do journalists need protection from President Trump and his supporters? Connecticut U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal professes to think so.

With two other Democratic members of Congress, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and California Rep. Eric Swalwell, Blumenthal has introduced what they call the Journalist Protection Act, which would make it a federal crime “to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist affecting interstate or foreign commerce in the course of reporting or in a manner designed to intimidate him or her from newsgathering for a media organization.”

Trump certainly is heaping contempt on news organizations, if no more than many news organizations are heaping contempt on him. For purposes of the law it hardly matters who is right, for each side is free to express contempt and even lie about the other short of the very limited actionable forms of libel. While this worsens political polarization and may help people rationalize political violence, there is no need for the Journalist Protection Act. The proposal is just another dreary episode of the political posturing that turns government into a big charade.

Journalists reporting sensitive matters have always been vulnerable to retaliation, but there is no epidemic of assaults on journalists in the United States.

Enacting federal law to criminalize what is already against state law everywhere, as ordinary assault is, would be needed only if a state was refusing to provide equal protection of the law, as segregationist states long failed to protect black people, condoning beatings and lynchings. But there is no evidence that the basic criminal law in any state has been so corrupted by the country’s bitter politics that equal protection is in danger.

Besides, constitutional guarantees of free speech and press do not belong exclusively to people making a living from journalism. To the contrary, the right of free expression belongs to everyone, so journalism is not a profession but everyone’s right. Journalists neither need nor deserve special protection because anyone can be a journalist at any time. Since the invention of paper and then movable type, journalism always has been relatively easy to attempt, and now, thanks to the internet, everyone can instantly become a journalist with a potentially worldwide audience.

If enacted, the Journalist Protection Act will provide no real protection to anyone, but then it’s not meant to. It’s meant only to remind the Trump haters in Trump-hating states that the bill’s sponsors still hate Trump too. They could have said as much in a press release and avoided the expense of drafting legislation.

 

PREYING ON PETS: As if it’s not enough to impose tolls on Connecticut’s highways and eliminate a score of sales tax exemptions, legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly to license cats and charge $15 to anyone who adopts a cat or dog from a municipal shelter.

Yes, municipal shelters cost a little money but people who adopt the orphaned creatures save municipal government the expense of caring for them or euthanizing them. The cats-and-dogs bill should be tabled at least until, say, the salary of the president of the University of Connecticut is capped at the salary of the president of the United States, $400,000 a year, and state and municipal employees are no longer paid to stay home on Columbus Day while taxpayers drag themselves to work.

 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.