Why it shouldn’t be a federal crime to punch reporters

Who defines public interest? As of now, the public does. If you are interested in something, you read it. If not, you don’t. Journalists catch on pretty quickly about what the public is interested in and direct their efforts accordingly. Under Swalwell’s bill, the government is the judge of where those efforts should be directed, with the direction of those efforts determining who is considered a journalist under the law. Whether this classification would be determined by regulation or by courts, the bill does not say.

There is a lot of fake news out there, but putting the government in charge of what counts as “real” reporting would be a disaster for press freedom. The Clinton White House told the public repeatedly in the late 1990s that the president’s sexual adventures were not a legitimate topic for reporters to pursue. President Trump would likely say the same about his tax returns, business dealings, and extramarital affairs. Journalists and their readers and viewers decided otherwise, as is our right—for now.