Citing Trump threats, News Guild demands safety measures for journalists
In addition to reporters being penned up in the middle of angry crowds at Trump rallies the rallygoers often sport signs or t-shirts, like this one, which calls for the lynching of journalists. | Twitter

WASHINGTON—Facing escalating violence against reporters – print and broadcast – and GOP President Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and threats, News Guild President Bernie Lunzer is reminding both his locals and media bosses that firms must act to protect their workers, including bargaining with the union over security issues.

By now, the situation is so bad at Trump rallies that Lunzer distributed a seven-point security memo to all Guild locals, outlining what they can do and what management must do, in early August.

Trump has recently escalated his war on the media at his hate-filled rallies, where reporters are always penned in, literally, often right in the middle of the angry crowd, with few or no escape routes.

He routinely points at the press, yelling about “fake news!”, calling reporters “the enemy of the people,” and inciting his audience against the news people, who are there to do their jobs.

The latest scary situation occurred July 31 in Tampa, Fla., where the reporters – even those with security – were surrounded by a howling, glaring and threatening Trump crowd. It wasn’t the first time, either.

That menace, and the murder of five people – two reporters, two editors and an ad rep – by a gunman with a grudge at the Annapolis (Md.) Capital-Gazette a month before, prompted Lunzer’s memo to locals of The News Guild-CWA.

“Workplace safety is a mandatory subject of bargaining. It can also be a subject for the grievance procedure, depending on whether your collective bargaining agreement includes health and safety language and on the wording of the grievance,” Lunzer explained in a cover letter.

“This language is more than words on paper, as one local knows. Our local in Kingston, N.Y., got the employer to increase security after threats were made against the newsroom.” Lunzer told locals to contact TNG if they have “specific concerns” on security.

Bernie Lunzer | Twitter

“Even in the absence of contract language addressing workplace safety, employers have a statutory obligation to maintain a safe workplace under the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.  That law also privileges employees to refrain from performing work if they reasonably believe that they are in imminent danger of serious physical injury,” Lunzer pointed out.

“Several locals have pressed for, and achieved, enhanced security in response to specific workplace concerns. Many have bargained over the effect of increased security or pushed the employer to provide extra security in special circumstances,” he added. And TNG’s 7-point memo includes model contract language on security.

Kingston Daily Freeman TNG local members called for increased security “after receiving threats against the newsroom and actually prevailed in having the paper’s owner, Digital First Media, maintain enhanced security for the paper’s office, including having an armed guard present for several days.”

Using their contract, the Kingston Guild also got DFM to install a security system “and established a process that allowed all employees to work from home or a remote location while the threat was addressed.”

Over on the broadcast side, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians – also a Communications Workers sector – has not issued a counterpart to Lunzer’s memo, yet, a staffer monitoring the issue said.

In February, NABET, The News Guild and other media organizations got behind the Journalist Protection Act, by Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., to make it a federal crime to assault a journalist doing his or her job. The bill, HR4935, has 12 co-sponsors, all Democrats. In May, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced it there (S2967). It provides 6-year jail terms for those convicted. Both bills have gone nowhere in the GOP-run Congress.

“Not all attacks on journalists this year have been committed by Trump supporters, but the fact remains that rhetoric emanating from the world’s most powerful office is stoking an environment in which these attacks proliferate,” Swalwell said then. “We must send a loud, clear message that such violence won’t be tolerated.”

NABET President Charlie Braico said then his members are “easy and tempting prey for anti-media extremists and thieves” because “they often work in the field alone” or with just one other person. They also carry equipment that’s expensive and cumbersome, he noted. That hampers defending themselves.

“The Journalist Protection Act will permit authorities to properly punish people who attempt to interfere with our members as they work in dynamic and challenging newsgathering situations,” added Braico.

Trump’s demonization of the press is not new. He routinely did it in the 2016 campaign. And a white-on-black T-shirt, sold online, at Walmart, and at his rallies, showed a tree with a noose – reminders of lynching – on the front. The back read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.”

The Radio Television News Directors Association complained and Walmart and the online sellers pulled it. But it also led some organizations to hire security guards for workers covering Trump.

Besides threats from crowds, print and broadcast journalists – and especially female and Jewish journalists – report an escalating volume of hate mail, death threats and other venom, especially online.

“What you do not see are the nasty letters or packages or emails. The threats of physical violence,” MSNBC’s Katy Tur said on the air in early August. “’I hope you get raped and killed,’ one person wrote to me just this week. ‘Raped and killed.’ Not just me, but a couple of my female colleagues as well.”

Networks and large news firms not only resorted to hiring security guards for staffers assigned to cover Trump, but discussed security with local police, Politico reported. Recently, the publisher of the Guild-represented New York Times brought up the threats in a 1-on-1 talk with Trump. He got brushed off.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.