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Opinion ‘Body-slamming’: Another reason why reporter is considered a terrible job

For the third year in a row, newspaper reporter has been named the worst job in a report by the website CareerCast. Logger is second, and broadcaster is third. That's pretty close to a death trifecta for the media, which is always reassuring for those of us who have taken this particular gamble with our careers.

Negative factors in CareerCast's survey include diminishing career prospects and deadline pressures. Perhaps next year they could expand the downsides to include being assaulted or arrested for reporting. Or being called "scum" by the leader of the free world. Or, in certain parts of the world, being murdered.

Let's start with the state of press freedom in an authoritarian regime where the leader has suggested locking up reporters, has publicly insulted them and urged his followers to do the same. That's right, the United States of America. You thought perhaps I was going to say Turkey or Saudi Arabia? We'll get to those.

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Read more: Reporter accuses Republican candidate in Montana of assaulting him

After Donald Trump spent an entire election campaign urging his fans to turn and scream at the reporters at his rallies (who were literally kept in pens), it's hardly shocking when the public attitude toward the press, never particularly cordial, has turned dangerously cold. After all, journalists are, in the President's words, disgraceful liars. They are "the enemy of the people."

On Wednesday, Republican nominee for Congress Greg Gianforte was accused of "body-slamming" Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper. Mr. Jacobs was asking Mr. Gianforte a question about Mr. Trump's proposed health-care bill; in reply, it's alleged, Mr. Gianforte slammed him to the ground and broke his glasses. Reporters from Fox News who witnessed the altercation said Mr. Jacobs was also punched.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Gianforte was charged with misdemeanour assault. On Thursday, Montana went to the polls; it elected Mr. Gianforte, rewarding – or at least ignoring – his behaviour. Mr. Gianforte's hard-right campaign had been supported by Donald Trump Jr. and Vice-President Mike Pence. As I write this, neither of them had condemned his actions.

A couple of weeks ago, Dan Heyman, a reporter from West Virginia, tried to ask U.S. Health Secretary Tom Price a question about the proposed health-care bill's effect on survivors of domestic violence. For doing so, he was arrested, charged with a misdemeanour and put in jail for seven hours. It was easy to see why people were outraged by his arrest, Mr. Heyman later wrote: "It seems to confirm people's worst fears about the erosion of a free press. They see public access closed down and journalists held in contempt and antipathy."

Should we be surprised? The Committee to Protect Journalists warned of this exact possibility during the presidential campaign. Its statement read, in part, "a Trump presidency would represent a threat to press freedom in the United States, but the consequences for the rights of journalists around the world could be far more serious. Any failure of the United States to uphold its own standards emboldens dictators and despots to restrict the media in their own countries."

Really, though, who's emboldening whom? Strongmen learn from, and encourage, each other. Mr. Trump did not raise the issue of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi when he visited Saudi Arabia. And Mr. Trump's friend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose security goons beat up protesters in Washington during an official visit, has filled his jails with journalists (as well as academics, judges and many others). Since last July's failed coup, Mr. Erdogan has thrown at least 120 journalists in prison, according to Amnesty International. About 150 Turkish media outlets have been shut down, silencing voices of political dissent.

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In the Philippines, another of Mr. Trump's friends, the tough-talking strongman Rodrigo Duterte, has essentially put a bull's-eye on journalists' backs, saying he didn't see a problem with assassinating reporters for being "corrupt." That's another word Mr. Trump likes to use for the press, along with "lying" and "fake." You don't have to be a cryptographer to break the code.

In other countries where journalists' lives are threatened, the government is either complicit, looks the other way or fails to enact any meaningful protection. In Mexico, the government has been promising for years to clamp down on journalists' murderers, who are seldom brought to justice. Just this month, one of the country's most famous crusading journalists, Javier Valdez, was shot and killed by masked gunmen outside the offices of Riodoce, the weekly newspaper he co-founded in the state of Sinaloa.

Mr. Valdez, who'd received death threats for years for his reporting on government corruption and drug gangs, was at least the sixth journalist to be killed in Mexico this year. At least 41 reporters have been killed in the country in the past 25 years, according to the CPJ, and the number is possibly much higher.

There's a huge gulf between the violence faced by journalists in Mexico or Russia or Turkey and the intimidation directed at reporters in the United States, which still has the robust protection of its First Amendment rights. (Canada, which slipped four places this year to 22nd in the World Press Freedom index, has challenges of its own concerning surveillance and protection of sources.) The threats all lie along the same continuum, though. When the loudest threats come from the very top, the echoes will be felt for a very long time.

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