It’s not unusual for politicians and candidates for office to express their fervent and unwavering support for the Second Amendment.
Now would be an ideal time for them to show the same allegiance to the First Amendment and its guarantee of a free press.
Journalists across the nation are coming under attack as they go about covering the protests and unrest washing across the nation — one of the most consequential stories in recent American history.
Reporters and photographers are clear-eyed in understanding their job might include covering potentially dangerous situations.
But what’s so appalling about many of the attacks on American journalists is they’re coming at the hands of law enforcement officers, peacekeepers who swear an oath to uphold the Constitution.
Dozens of reports from around the country describe journalists getting shot at, manhandled, abused and arrested by police officers even after identifying themselves as part of the media.
Some incidents occurred in the fog of conflict, as when tear gas drifts into a crowd that includes journalists. We wouldn’t be writing this editorial if that were the extent of it.
We’re writing this because of what happened to Jintak Han, a UCLA journalist who was shot at with rubber bullets by Los Angeles police even though he was wearing a helmet, vest and pass clearly labeled “Press.”
In Minneapolis, TV photojournalist Tom Aviles was hit with a rubber bullet and arrested even though he identified himself and attempted to comply with an officer’s order to leave.
In Louisville, Ky., police shot TV reporter Kaitlin Rust and photojournalist James Dobson with pepper balls even after they complied with an order to move away.
In New York City, police struck and injured Wall Street Journal reporter Tyler Blint-Welsh with their riot shields even as he was trying to comply with an order to back up.
In Tampa, a police officer shoved Tampa Bay Times reporter Divya Kumar to the ground, zip-tied her hands and put her under arrest, all this after she showed the police her press pass.
In many instances, reporters are trying to comply with police or, after identifying themselves are told “I don’t care” or “shut up,” showing these incidents aren’t human error. In New York on Tuesday, two Associated Press journalists who had identified themselves were surrounded and shoved around by police.
Protesters have gone after journalists, too. A Fox News crew was assaulted by a mob outside the White House while another TV news crew was grabbed and chased by a crowd in Rochester, N.Y.
Journalists shouldn’t be targeted at all, but the violence is more alarming when it’s at the hands of police, whose job is to protect the public and preserve the Constitution.
The number of assaults and their brazen disregard for the First Amendment rights of journalists are unprecedented, and they’re an affront to our values.
The media generally are not allowed in meetings where police chiefs and sheriffs are giving instructions to officers and deputies, so we have no way of knowing if the message to rough up journalists is coming from on high or whether some officers are taking matters into their own hands.
Whatever the case, elected officials, who like the police are sworn to uphold the Constitution, should be outraged. We feel safe in saying attacks on journalists by officers of the law is not what the founders had in mind when they drafted the First Amendment.
Are they outraged? On Wednesday morning we asked spokespeople for these elected officials whether they had said or written anything about the spate of assaults on press freedom: Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, Central Florida U.S. Reps. Val Demings, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto and Michael Waltz, and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Murphy responded with a statement that acknowledged freedom of assembly and press were “cornerstones of American democracy (that) are under attack. We must stand up and defend them.” Bravo.
Waltz’s statement acknowledged the sometimes dangerous work of journalists but placed the blame for violence on “anarchists and looters” without acknowledging the role of police.
On Thursday morning, Soto tweeted that Congress “must step up to address these attacks to protect transparency & accountability in our democracy.”
From the rest, silence.
Through it all, President Donald Trump has continued his relentless verbal attacks on the press even as members of the press are physically attacked by police.
Not all heads of state are as contemptuous of a free press as Trump.
The prime minister of Australia asked his ambassador to the United States to investigate after two of his country’s journalists were attacked by officers in Washington — during the now infamous attempt to clear out the rabble so Trump could stroll to an Episcopal church for a photo op.
The ambassador in turn released a statement on Twitter that said, in part: “Freedom of the press is a right that Australians and Americans hold dear. We take mistreatment of journalists seriously, as do all who take democracy seriously.”
If only every American politician could muster the will to stand up and defend the value of a free press at a time when it’s under assault.
— ORLANDO SENTINEL