“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” John Milton~ Areopagitica
Back in May of this year, our employees in Washington talked about sponsoring a Media Shield bill after Eric Holder’s Justice Department took two months’ worth of Associated Press phone records. The bill was supposed to grant legal protections to journalists. Senators Graham R-SC and Schumer D-NY were at the forefront of proposing to co-sponsor the bill, saying in a joint statement, “The government has a legitimate interest in preventing and investigating leaks of classified information… At the same time, the public has a legitimate interest in a robust free press. This bill strikes a fair and reasonable balance between those interests, and we urge you to join us in advancing it.”
Although many, mostly Republicans, were outraged at the Justice’s actions, and some saw it as an abuse of power, they weren’t quick to jump on board with the bill, saying they’d have to see the details before taking a position on it.
Some readers may remember Sam Janney’s article in June about Lindsey Graham’s obnoxious blunder about whether bloggers would be protected under the bill. It was reported June 5th that Graham, when talking to reporters about the bill said, “Who is a journalist is a question we need to ask ourselves… Is any blogger out there saying anything — do they deserve First Amendment protection? These are the issues of our times.”
Graham is the lead GOP sponsor who was helping to draft the law. A similar law, which failed to pass Congress in 2009, would have given members of the media protection from having to testify in federal cases or providing documents. The question of who is considered a journalist was asked when the failed bill was proposed. In the Columbia Journal Review an article by Clint Helder asked, “Are journalists best defined by the act of reporting (what’s known as a functional definition), or by how they are employed (a status-based definition)?” This was the question Graham was trying to address.
Many folks took offense to Graham’s comments and of course he tried to back pedal after, tweeting June 5th, “Just to be clear, every blogger is entitled to constitutionally-protected Freedom of Speech.”
Most states have their own shield laws for journalists, but those laws don’t apply in federal court. Any monitoring of reporters by the federal government would be covered only under a federal shield law.
Now the Senate Judiciary Committee is trying to agree on the definition of what a “journalist” is. The bill describes a journalist as being a person who has a “primary intent to investigate events and procure material“ in order to inform the public by regularly gathering information through interviews and observations. The person also must intend to report on the news at the start of obtaining any protected information and must plan to publish that news.
Senator Diane Feinstein D-Cal echoed Graham’s ridiculous comments when she recently said, “I’m concerned this would provide special privilege to those who are not reporters at all” and believes that the definition should only apply to those who earn salaries for their work, calling them “real reporters”.
The committee will continue debating the bill when it comes back in September, and Schumer said he hopes it will go to the Senate floor by the end of the year.
I will state here and now that I am not a journalist, but I do participate in journalism as I “investigate events and procure material” just as paid journalists do. I’ve been writing my own articles for years, while researching and passing along all information I can find about issues. Anyone who writes for a blog is engaged in journalism, but not all are necessarily paid for passing along information. This does not make what We the People have to report on any less important than someone who was educated in Journalism, and paid millions over the years as a news reporter and/or anchor. Keeping in mind that some journalists and news stations, while reporting what news they decide to report, have been proven to lie about certain reports.
I seem to recall a group of men who gave their opinions on major issues of their day as well. I wonder if Senators Graham, Feinstein and others would have considered these men not to be “real” journalists who didn’t qualify for being protected for their freedom to speak. Of course I am talking about Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay who wrote the Federalist Papers. These papers were a series of eighty-five essays urging the citizens of New York to ratify the new United States Constitution, which were originally published in New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788 under the pen name “Publius.” It was not until 1818 when a bound edition of all the essays was published by printer Jacob Gideon, when the authors of each essay were identified by name. The Federalist Papers are considered one of the most important sources for interpreting and understanding the original intent of the Constitution.
While I don’t know if these men or those who also published the Anti-Federalist Papers were paid for their essays, I know they did not consider themselves journalists.
If this bill goes forward at all, it must include provisions to allow for 1st Amendment rights not only of the Press, but of all the people who engage in reporting and writing informative articles-whether they are paid or not. For thousands of bloggers, it seems that those who are willing to report without asking for pay prove to love and care about our nation and are willing to take time to help others know what’s going on, reporting about those things that many paid journalists fail to talk about.