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Open season on reporters
by Rheta Johnson
May 31, 2017 | 550 views | 0 0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Do elected public officials, egged on by the sophomoric rhetoric of President Donald Trump, really think they can attack reporters asking honest questions and get away with it?

Well, maybe they can. Republican Greg Gianforte of Montana won his congressional election after pushing a reporter to the ground and breaking his eyeglasses.

And maybe it's worse than one bullying multi-millionaire picking on one bespectacled reporter. Does this incident mean that it might actually help public servants to manhandle the media? Does it beef up a politician's resume? Family man. Church-goer. Convicted of assault of reporter.

It certainly didn't seem to hinder candidate Trump to keep up the drumbeat against the Fourth Estate. At his rallies, reporters were kept corralled and conspicuous, and at times had to be escorted out of arenas with frothing and battle-lusty Trump supporters.

Gianforte, to his credit, admitted to the attack on the reporter and apologized, albeit he did so only after the voting was over and he'd won the race. He told his supporters he had made a mistake. "Not in our minds, you didn't," someone in the crowd yelled.

Is this really what we want in our country? Are we willing to give elected officials the right to stomp on press freedom? Do we applaud them for it? Do we elect them because of it?

Gianforte's ads said he was endorsed by the National Rifle Association. I guess we should be glad he didn't shoot the reporter who asked about health care.

Think about this: The reporter attacked was seeking answers for the public, not for himself. So while Gianforte decked one man, he symbolically gave the finger to all Montana voters and all Americans who historically have reserved the right to ask questions of their elected officials.

In fairness, Gianforte's physical attack is only one way so-called public servants have been high-handing taxpayers recently. Certain congressional members feel it is OK to slink out back doors when a meeting with constituents turns tough and means more than a rubber chicken and a round of applause. Some won't hold meetings with the public at all.

Politicians will be accountable only if the voters insist on it. If that accountability ends, nobody is to blame but the citizenry.

Elected officials always have been subject to greed, bribery, lies and sundry temptations. If given a free pass, heaven only knows what will happen in a legislative branch that already barely functions. And the executive branch, well, only those with no political memory could want an unmonitored White House.

You could argue, and I would, that a free press is the main thing differentiating our country from so many repressive dictatorships. Is that really what the average American wants? Because it would seem that's where we are headed.

The first thing to go in a democracy listing toward a dictatorship is freedom of the press. Already our new president has reportedly inquired about arresting reporters who are getting too close for comfort. He also has discussed changing libel laws, dropping a net of intimidation over those reporters aggressively pursuing the truth.

Do newspaper reporters and others in the media make mistakes? Of course. Do they sometimes err in their assessments? Yes. Are there bad apples in the barrel? A few.

But if you ask me, I'd trust 99 percent of the reporters I've known over any of the politicians. And I don't think Greg Gianforte should be seated in Congress.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson's most recent book is "Hank Hung the Moon ... And Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts." Comments are welcomed at rhetagrimsley@aol.com.

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