America’s oldest incarnation of journalism had nothing to do with major news networks and iconic ink wretches like Bob Woodruff and William Randolph Hearst. In the years leading up to the Constitutional guarantee of press freedom, it was all about pamphlets and soapboxes.
That free flow of information, not always accurate but readily available, likely had a great deal to do with the Revolutionary spirit that engulfed much of the countryside leading up to the Nation’s war for independence. Over the decades, however, news became business. And sprawling populations, economic hurdles and busy schedules made it possible for only those with the best means of production to hold a monopoly over mass information.
The Internet has changed that. Now, every American with a connection to the World Wide Web has the opportunity to act, for better or worse, in the capacity of a one-man news team.
Unfortunately, the Nation’s ruling class has taken note of the Information Age. And they are hell-bent on creating restrictions that would pick and choose who is and who is not afforded journalist protections pursuant to the 1st Amendment.
In a recent Chicago Sun-Times contribution, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), makes the case for restrictions on who can consider him or herself a journalist:
…Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech. But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive.
The media informs the public and holds government accountable. Journalists should have reasonable legal protections to do their important work. But not every blogger, tweeter or Facebook user is a “journalist.” While social media allows tens of millions of people to share information publicly, it does not entitle them to special legal protections to ignore requests for documents or information from grand juries, judges or other law enforcement personnel.
A journalist gathers information for a media outlet that disseminates the information through a broadly defined “medium” — including newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, magazine, news website, television, radio or motion picture — for public use. This broad definition covers every form of legitimate journalism.
To those who feel politicians shouldn’t define who a journalist is, I’d remind them that they likely live in one of the 49 states, like Illinois, where elected officials have already made that decision.
The leaks of classified information about the NSA’s surveillance operations and an ongoing Justice Department investigation into who disclosed secret documents to the Associated Press have brought this issue back to the forefront and raised important questions about the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and how our nation defines journalism.
It’s long past time for Congress to create a federal law that defines and protects journalists.
Like so many other things that fall out of politicians’ mouths, the words “It’s long past time for Congress to create a Federal law that defines and protects journalists” may sound pretty good at first. But, they also smell of a certain kind of Congressional funk. So here are a few relevant questions:
- Is Durbin of the mind that Congress should work to protect only “legitimate news media” (i.e., the mainstream media, which acts as a government public relations asset)?
- Does Durbin believe that conservative blogs have journalistic value?
- Does a freelance reporter who uses Twitter as a medium of mass communication qualify as a journalist?
- Could this be used as a means by which to clamp down on the free speech of average people with information to share?
The respective answers to the aforementioned queries are likely: “yes,” “no,” “no” and “yes.”
Per Durbin: “A journalist gathers information for a media outlet that disseminates the information through a broadly defined ‘medium’ — including newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, magazine, news website, television, radio or motion picture — for public use. This broad definition covers every form of legitimate journalism.”
If the Senator’s goal is a return to the monopoly age that major newspapers and television networks enjoyed prior to the proliferation of mom and pop information peddlers on the Internet, he’s making the right argument. But to support his effort, you have to believe you are too stupid to decide what is and isn’t reliable information.
If you have already accepted that, get off the computer and click back over to FOX. Hurry, you may still have time to catch some of Gretchen Carlson’s thigh.