'Someone needs to read the First Amendment to him': Tom Cotton torn apart for sinking press freedom bill

'Someone needs to read the First Amendment to him': Tom Cotton torn apart for sinking press freedom bill
Image via Creative Commons.

At a time when former President Donald Trump and his MAGA allies often describe journalists and reporters as providers of “fake news” and “the enemy of the people,” some members of Congress — both Democrats and conservative Republicans — were hoping to pass a bipartisan bill that offers protections for media professionals as well as telecom companies. But Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas was highly critical of the bill, while Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon had vigorously defended it against Cotton’s claims.

The Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act or PRESS Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland on July 1, 2021. The bill was passed in the House over a year later on September 19, 2022, and was being considered and debated in the U.S. Senate before Cotton blocked it on Wednesday afternoon.

According to Congress’ website, the PRESS Act “prohibits the federal government from compelling journalists and providers of telecommunications services (e.g., phone and internet companies) to disclose certain protected information, except in limited circumstances such as to prevent terrorism or imminent violence.”

READ MORE: Unequal justice: Donald Trump’s war on the First Amendment will one day reach the Supreme Court

Criticizing the PRESS Act on the Senate floor, Cotton declared, “The PRESS Act would immunize journalists and leakers alike from scrutiny and consequences for their actions. This bill would prohibit the government from compelling any individual who calls himself a journalist from exposing the source or substance of such damaging leaks. This, effectively, would grant journalists special legal privileges to disclose sensitive information that no other citizen enjoys.”

Wyden later offered a firm rebuttal of Cotton’s claims, telling fellow U.S. senators, “Our colleague from Arkansas has talked about the exceptions that are made in this bipartisan bill. And I would only say that the exceptions to make sure we could protect our country — to deal with national security — in this bill were strong enough to get the support of 435 members of the House of Representatives…. The fact is: It got the support of every member of the House of Representatives. All 435. Because they thought the exceptions made sense.”

Twitter user @SunnyDays024 posted, “His name should be Tom Coward not Cotton.” And @Slade, mocking Cotton, wrote, “journalism is bad except when i get to do literal authoritarianism in the op-ed pages.” @Slade was referring to an op-ed that Cotton wrote for the New York Times in June 2020.

Derek Rosario, @RosarioDerek, tweeted, “Republicans like Cotton don’t want anyone least of all reporters finding out how corrupt they are.” Eric Barr, @Ebarr12, tweeted that Cotton’s comments were “not surprising” because in the past, he “wanted” to prosecute journalists under the Espionage Act,” and @akobilarov said of Cotton, “Someone needs to read the First Amendment to him.”

READ MORE:Fox’s Lachlan Murdoch files defamation lawsuit against major Australian news outlet

Another biting Twitter post came from @Truth_Comes_1st, who wrote, “So quite simply, he wants to send his minions to harass those very sources because they confirmed a fact about a subject he's touchy about. Fantastic way to put more pressure on the FBI and other witness protection agencies.”

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READ MORE: 'It’s garbage': Media critic tears apart Donald Trump’s defamation lawsuit against CNN

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