Democracies rely on a free and independent press to provide information the public needs. Sometimes journalists doing their job for the public can be a little disruptive. That’s never been a crime and shouldn’t be one now.
Recently, a West Virginia reporter, a journalist who has long covered that state’s capitol, was arrested, in Charleston, when he allegedly shouted questions at Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway regarding the American Health Care Act.
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Daniel Heyman of Public News Service was charged with willfully disrupting state government processes. He was later released on $5,000 bond.
It appears that Mr. Heyman broke a Secret Service security line, so he is not blameless in this matter. But Mr. Price should condemn the arrest and correct any impression that he doesn’t want to answer journalists’ questions. Instead, he told the Associated Press that arresting Mr. Heyman wasn’t his call. And he added, “The gentleman was not in a press conference,” implying that if only Mr. Heyman had been asking questions in a more appropriate way, he would have gotten an answer.
When The Blade editorial board followed the Department of Health and Human Services instructions for requesting a comment on the matter, Mr. Price’s press office replied with a nonresponse, only acknowledging that Mr. Price had been in West Virginia that day and not answering the question of his opinion on Mr. Heyman’s arrest. So much for assuring an answer if the question is asked in a proper forum.
Asking questions of a government official in public is part of a journalist’s job. Answering questions should be part of the government official’s job. Arresting journalists doing their job, even those being disruptive, is an affront to the First Amendment. A free press is worth a little disruption.
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