Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2021

Abstract

Identifying oneself as press used to be a near-grant of immunity. It meant safer passage through all manner of dangerous terrain. But today, being recognizable as a journalist may be more likely to make one a target.

Physical attacks against journalists in the United States increased nearly 1,300 percent in 2020. The rate of online violence against journalists is also soaring. This violence is aimed almost entirely at women, people of color, non-Christians, and non-straight journalists. It silences voices already relegated to the edges. Rather than letting our national conversation branch, the violence attempts to shear it to a white, male, Christian, and straight trunk.

At its core, democracy requires that new voices can be heard so that stock stories—and the hierarchies they support—do not become entrenched. Journalists tell us these new stories about ourselves and our communities—stories that bring us into conversation with one another and help us to self-govern. Given this, violence against journalists is an assault on freedom of expression and democracy itself. And it is continuing with impunity.

To address the systemic harm caused by the violence, this Article proposes a federal “obstruction of journalism” statute modeled on the obstruction of justice ones. Obstruction of justice is aimed at preserving the effective functioning of our justice system by criminalizing threats against that system. Likewise, obstruction of journalism would criminalize physical violence and particularly severe threats against reporters with the aim of protecting journalism, another system integral to a functioning democracy.

Publication Citation

Denver Law Review, Forthcoming.

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