Arresting a Reporter for Asking Questions Is an Unacceptable Assault on the First Amendment

Journalist Dan Heyman addresses the press with his attorney following his release.

A reporter in West Virginia was arrested Tuesday night for literally doing his job.

Dan Heyman, a veteran reporter with Public News Service, was covering a visit to the state capitol by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and senior Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway. As they walked through the building, Heyman pressed the two on whether domestic violence would be considered a preexisting condition under the American Health Care Act passed by the House last week.

Suddenly, he was pulled aside by Capitol police, handcuffed, and hauled off to jail. He was charged with a misdemeanor for “willful disruption of governmental processes” and only released when his employer posted a $5,000 bond. He is still awaiting a preliminary hearing.

“At some point I think they decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job, and they arrested me,” Heyman said after he was released.

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A criminal complaint alleges that Heyman was “causing a disturbance by yelling questions.” What it doesn’t note was that Heyman was actually targeted for reporting on matters critical to the public interest — not in a closed meeting or the inside of a working office, but in the hallways of a government building.

The law under which Heyman was charged can carry a fine of up to $100 and a jail sentence of up to six months.

At a time of eroding trust in our government institutions, an independent free press is more critical than ever to ensure that the people running our country are held to account. This makes Heyman’s arrest all the more distressing.

What happened in West Virginia didn’t happen in a vacuum. The president has been attempting to undermine the press on a regular basis and resists transparency at every turn. He has smeared the media as “the enemy of the people.” On the campaign trail, he revoked the credentials of some of the most prestigious news outlets in the country because he didn’t like their coverage. Reporters have been the victims of physical violence and the target of mockery. Others have been arrested and charged with felonies for covering protests.

Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that a reporter was arrested for trying to ask a question to a member of Trump’s cabinet. But it can never be accepted as normal.

In the 1971 Supreme Court ruling on the famous Pentagon Papers case, Justice Hugo Black wrote, “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” Indeed, when our public representatives — whether the Trump administration or the West Virginia Capitol police — forget that they work for us, we need journalists to remind them. Without a free press, public officials have a much easier time evading accountability, shielding misconduct, and pushing through dangerous policies without public scrutiny. Even Thomas Jefferson, who had a quarrelsome relationship with the press, knew that “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press.”

We need journalists to be able to challenge and question public officials, loudly and persistently. For the government to stand in the way is a frontal assault on the First Amendment and the functioning of our democracy. Those who don’t want transparency in the literal halls of government have no business putting themselves in the political spotlight.

If our elected officials insist on continuing to violate one of our country’s core values, we will see them in court — in defense of Dan Heyman and of any other journalist serving the public’s right to know.

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Anonymous

Honey there's a huge difference between a reporter asking a question and someone having a platform for hate speech. They're not even close to the same thing. If you had half a brain, you'd have realized that all on your own.

Anonymous

Uh... no. Not the same thing. But thanks for playing.

Clint

BZZZT! WRONG! Thanks for playing..

Free speech means the government can't arrest you for what you say. It does not guarantee a venue or platform for your speech...

https://xkcd.com/1357/

Anonymous

Was anyone thrown in jail for speaking at berkeley? No. Then no, not the same

Anonymous

The difference is that the 1st Amendment protects citizens from THE GOVERNMENT SHUTTING DOWN THE PRESS AND FREE SPEECH, it does not protect anyone from having the another citizen tell them to stfu (or you answering back "No you stfu!"), or from an institution deciding to not provide a forum over safety concerns. Milo was still free to express himself on the street if he cared to, though given there was a riot taking place atm he would've been ill-advised to do so. There are laws against rioting and destruction of property, so if anything you should take issue with the police force at Berkeley for not putting a stop to the rioting, not with all "libbies"-- particularly since most don't condone the actions of the rioters in Berkeley.

Anonymous

so much for 1st amendment rights if trump and the rest had its way we wouldn't have anything everyone needs to really watch an follow through

Anonymous

so much for 1st amendment rights if trump and the rest had its way we wouldn't have anything everyone needs to really watch an follow through

Anonymous2

I agree that this is not the time for weapons, and I hope it never will be, but just when is the right time? When people are routinely shot in the street by police for wearing a Bernie button? When people are being dragged off to concentration camps? It's a tough call, but we are still far from it. Couldn't hurt to be prepared, though.

Tough call

You gonna let them drag you to a political interment camp? Once Pence and Sessions start the American Jihad are you gonna let the Baptist drag you to religious reeducation camp? You never know when they are gonna come for you.

Anonymous

People aren't "routinely" shot in the street for no reason you dolt. This the problem with you alarmists. You're the stupid bulk of the masses that will clap at anything that agrees with your narrowly constructed view of reality.

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