Headline: “Florida Keys news reporter arrested for asking a local politician questions.” Absurd? Think again because it’s happening elsewhere, assaults on press freedom and freedom of speech since President Trump’s election.
On May 9, Dan Heyman, a West Virginia reporter for the Public News Service, was charged with “willful disruption of government processes” for having the gall to ask U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price about congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
It happened at West Virginia’s state capitol. While they were both in a hallway, Heyman pressed Price about pre-existing health conditions. Price wouldn’t respond and in short order, Heyman was arrested in the hallway by capitol police, which Heyman says was at the behest of Price’s Secret Service detail (by the way, why does the HHS secretary need a Secret Service detail? To protect himself from journalists?).
Heyman was jailed for eight hours before posting $5,000 bond. It likely won’t happen, but he could face up to six months in jail if convicted, along with a fine. Price, meanwhile praised the arrest, saying, according to CNN, “That gentleman was not in a press conference,” in essence saying questions can be asked only in controlled environments, not public places like a state capitol.
On May 3, Virginia resident Desiree Fairooze was convicted in District of Columbia Superior Court of disorderly and disruptive conduct and demonstrating on Capitol grounds. She had been arrested Jan. 10 after chuckling during the congressional confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general. Two women with her (all three are part of the Code Pink activist group) were convicted of the demonstrating charge — not for chuckling.
One might say these are isolated incidents, but that would be ignoring the fact that our president, both during the campaign and after his inauguration, has encouraged blowback against press freedom and freedom of speech. Who doesn’t remember the manhandling of protesters at his campaign rallies at the behest of Trump from the rally lecturns?
Trump’s loathing of a free and independent press, or any unflattering truth about him, has been on display time and again.
He says “mainstream” media outlets report “fake news,” meaning any press reports negative about him, his administration and his policies cannot be believed. For example, during an election debate in September against Hillary Clinton, he tried to refute reports of his support for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, even though Trump had said he supported the invasion on Howard Stern’s radio show, which was taped.
Asked about that at the September debate, then-candidate Trump said: “I had numerous conversations with Sean Hannity at Fox. And Sean Hannity said — and he called me the other day, and I spoke to him about it — he said, ‘You were totally against the war,’ because he was for the war.”
That was not Alec Baldwin playing Trump on “Saturday Night Live” (though Baldwin got laughs out of the statement while playing Trump a few nights later on the comedy show). That was Trump saying don’t believe the tape, believe my version of a private conversion I had with one of my most ardent supporters. Writ larger, don’t believe anything anyone tells you despite me spreading lies (even such easily disputed lies as his “landslide” election victory).
That kind of arrogance trickles down. People in lesser positions now feel more empowered to punish those with whom they disagree or don’t even want to deal with (see reporter Heyman above). Even a barely audible chuckle (see protester Fairooz above) at a public hearing is now fair game for arrest.
Trump has tweeted that the media is not his enemy, “it is the enemy of the American people.”
We believe different, of course. The press is not the enemy of anybody. What it is, along with those who disagree about policies and decisions, is a protector of the most elemental morals and values of our country. That is something the president, sadly, will never learn.