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

There may be a time for violence, as there have been in other societies when established systems simply cannot function any longer. However, we're not there yet, not by a long shot.

It's emotionally very gratifying to fantasize about making these people suffer. But it is counterproductive and furthermore, violent acts really screw up the person committing them. It's not like this is a movie where the good guys make the bad guys pay. We all pay when we go to violence.

No suffering

Suffering is not the point. Regime change is, our government and president is out of control. Torture is their answer to people who don't agree with them. Our answer is one shot to the head and a proper burial with a plaque of warning.

Walter Price

As a former state legislator, it is hard for me to believe that my state has sunk to the depths of tyranny.
I have to say in my view there was NO GOVERNMENT going on in the hallway of the Statehouse, and the law simply inapplicable.
What can be expected from Kelly Anne, who regularly uses alt-right vocabulary, as she did this morning on TV, saying a particular government official had "no dominion" over a situation. DOMINION??? She is supposed to be a lawyer, and the word dominion is now used mostly to describe the beliefs of fringe Christians called "dominionists".
As for Price, I am ashamed to carry the same last name. He is most famous for trading RX securities while in office.
Governor, pardon the reporter TODAY

Walter Price

Why was the Conway/Price meeting private? Maybe because there could have been some VERY strong questions, since the health care bill lists ADDICTION as a pre-existing condition. The harm that will do WV is incredible. Where is the sunshine in WV? What happened to open government. When I served in the WV House, the speaker took the door of his office off the hinges to avoid the appearance of secrecy. Wonder if the Republican speaker still has the door off? We all know why it WAS private, because the jerks are afraid of questions, just like the Republicans in Congress in their "town halls".

Patriotic Guard

Remember, we only live once. And NO ONE IS BULLETPROOF. Better to live and die a shining beacon of freedom, then cower and die as nameless, powerless cattle.

Anonymous

Fake news

Anonymous

There is a difference between a reporter asking a question and hate speech, please show me that in the first amendment. One person's hate speech is another man's liberty.

Clint

Re: Calls for violence -- heed John Lennon's wise words:

"When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you - pull your beard, flick your face - to make you fight! Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor."

First Stikes

So handle them first!

Dan

@Clint Very wise words. People are too violent in today's world.

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