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Reporters ask questions in Washington D.C. in May.
Reporters ask questions in Washington D.C. in May.
Jillian Deutsch

—Analysis—

The simmering tensions between reporters and politicians in the U.S. have moved beyond the White House press room — and beyond just words.

Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was in the state of Montana on Wednesday to cover the hotly contested special election to fill a vacant Congressional seat. When Jacobs asked a question to Republican candidate Greg Gianforte about health care, Gianforte didn't answer. And when Jacobs repeated the question? According to the reporter and others on hand, Gianforte proceeded to body slam Jacobs to the ground.

Despite the candidate's denial, the account was corroborated by a Fox News crew and Jacobs' recorded audio in which a sudden tussle can be heard followed by Gianforte saying "I am sick and tired of you guys." Well, a functioning free press can be quite exhausting indeed. It is also fundamental to the Constitution Gianforte would have to swear to uphold if elected in today's ballot. He may also be arrested in the meantime.

Of course, reporters should be able to do their jobs free of physical harm; but the actions of a free press are not always so black-and-white. As the investigation was underway after Monday night's deadly Manchester attack, UK officials withheld certain information from the public like the identification of the attacker, images of the bombs and information about the victims. As the BBC reported, this allows detectives to investigate without anyone being tipped off.

But that information fell into the laps of New York Times reporters, via U.S. intelligence officers who had gotten it from the Five Eyes information sharing network between the two nations, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The UK isn't taking the incident lightly. As of Thursday morning, information sharing on the Manchester attack is suspended. The issue will also make for a tense conversation between U.S. President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May in Brussels.

The incident is the latest to feed ongoing debates about how media respond in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and how much information should be revealed to the public. What good was done by publishing photos of the bombs on the Internet? Who was helped by having the name of the attacker splashed across laptop screens? Is the rush to publication just serving the interests of the attackers?

Of course, these days, what information should be shared is no longer just an issue for news organizations. In recent years, Facebook has ramped up efforts to erase terrorist propaganda on its site, but according to the Guardian, its methods are not full-proof. Photos used in pro-terrorist groups can still flourish on the social network as long as they were posted with a neutral or condemning message, the daily reports.

It is difficult terrain to navigate. Who gets to decide which information is beneficial for the public and when it's too much? And how effective are those methods in the age of the Internet when sharing information is as easy as clicking a button?

Such questions are not likely to go away anytime soon. With nations like the UK raising its threat level, France extending its state of emergency, protests against government corruption in Brazil and investigations into government collusion in the U.S., the role of media and the proliferation of information will continue to be a global struggle that plays out differently case-by-case, country-to-country, keyboard-after-keyboard. A good starting point would be that when a reporter asks a questions you don't like, never answer with a body slam.

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I remember there were other kids in the fields around us. But then, slowly, we were the only ones left because everybody was selling the land, making a lot of money off of it too.

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