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Why Reporters Should Wear Body Cameras

Now that fists and handcuffs have joined the daily excoriation of the press, journalists need another tool to help them set the record straight, writes Susan E. Reed. Pictured: Technology entrepreneur Greg Gianforte speaks to Republican delegates before a candidate forum on Monday, March 6, 2017, in Helena, Mont. (Matt Volz/ AP)
Now that fists and handcuffs have joined the daily excoriation of the press, journalists need another tool to help them set the record straight, writes Susan E. Reed. Pictured: Technology entrepreneur Greg Gianforte speaks to Republican delegates before a candidate forum on Monday, March 6, 2017, in Helena, Mont. (Matt Volz/ AP)
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Reporters should start wearing body cameras to document the increasingly aggressive and hostile acts against them by some of the politicians and public officials they cover.

The latest assault on the freedom of the press came from Greg Gianforte, the newly elected Republican congressman from Montana, who allegedly body slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs and broke his glasses on Wednesday, the eve of the election at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana.

Initially, Gianforte, a wealthy, Trump-style businessman turned politician, claimed through his spokesperson that he was the victim of “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.”

Jacobs asked Gianforte his thoughts on the American Health Care Act, and used a voice recorder to document Gianforte’s response.

Words have power, but apparently these Republicans don’t know how to use them when it comes to answering reporters’ questions...

The thunder, rumble and thump of the audio indicates that something physical happened between the two of them.

Gianforte yelled, “Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing! You with The Guardian?”

“Yes! And you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs responded.

A body camera would have shown the confrontation. Fortunately, a Fox News team provided an eyewitness account, saying reporter Jacobs was never aggressive and that Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck, threw him to the ground and began punching him.

If it weren’t for the eyewitnesses, authorities might have believed the Montana businessman instead of The Guardian reporter. This time Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin, who contributed to Gianforte’s campaign, issued a citation charging Gianforte with misdemeanor assault.

The three candidates, Republican Greg Gianforte, from left, Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks vying to fill Montana's only congressional seat take part in a televised debate ahead of the May 25 special election, Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Great Falls, Mont. (Bobby Caina Calvan/ AP)
The three candidates, Republican Greg Gianforte, from left, Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks vying to fill Montana's only congressional seat take part in a televised debate ahead of the May 25 special election, Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Great Falls, Mont. (Bobby Caina Calvan/ AP)

Footage from a body camera would also help West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman defend himself against the charge of “willful disruption of governmental processes” for asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price a question about the American Health Care Act as they walked through the state capitol. Secret Service agents claimed Heyman was “aggressively breaching” them, while Heyman, an accredited veteran reporter said he was merely doing his job.

Heyman used his phone to record the exchange, but it does not convey any of the alleged breaching. Reporters could record video on their phones, instead of audio, but it’s too easy to drop the device during a confrontation.

Words have power, but apparently these Republicans don’t know how to use them when it comes to answering reporters’ questions, especially when asked about the American Health Care Act.

While voting was underway, Gianforte remained mum about the alleged assault. His website, Greg For Montana, mentioned nothing about it. President Trump said nothing during his trip overseas. Vice President Mike Pence, who had endorsed Gianforte, skipped his only public event. Only House Speaker Paul Ryan and Montana Sen. Steve Daines said Gianforte should apologize. Gianforte waited to do so at his victory speech.

If reporters are mistreated, the public is being mistreated, since the reporter serves as an intermediary.

What were the Montanans thinking when they elected Gianforte to replace their only congressman, Ryan Zinke, after he became interior secretary? The majority had mailed in their ballots before the alleged violence occurred, which should cause election commissioners nationwide to reconsider the cost of early voting.

Unlike the fantastical visions of conspiracy theorists who imagine that reporters sit around plotting to disrupt the ruling regime, most journalists spend their days in far more mundane activities: interviewing people, observing events, reading reports, analyzing data and compiling presentations for the public. If reporters are mistreated, the public is being mistreated, since the reporter serves as an intermediary.

Without a free press there will be no free speech. Without free speech, there will be no freedom of assembly. They all form a tightly interconnected democracy; take one away and it will all unravel.

Now that fists and handcuffs have joined the daily excoriation of the press that emanates from the White House, journalists need another tool to help them set the record straight. They need evidence to show judges and juries exactly how the First Amendment is being savaged by those who are entrusted to uphold it.

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Susan E. Reed Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Susan E. Reed is a columnist who has won several awards for her international reporting and her book, "The Diversity Index."

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