SENATE VOTES TO PROCEED IN KILLING FIRST AMENDMENT AND ESTABLISHING STATE RUN MEDIA
This week in Washington D.C. in the Senate, the Senate review committee came out of their Shield Law hearing with a vote of 13 to 5 to begin discussing the bill on the Senate floor. The law is intended to shield the journalist from having to reveal sources in light of the Snowden and Manning cases under duress by the Department of Justice. But hold the phone, the vote wasn’t even allowed to proceed until Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) got everyone one to agree what is a “real” reporter. Did we not already have freedom of the press under the First Amendment of the US Constitution? So, is this actually the Senate’s attempt at redefining the First Amendment or their way of providing the establishment of the United States first State Ran Media?
Perhaps you think we are taking this out of context. Perhaps, perhaps not. The Christian Science Monitor puts this in a way that involves the founding fathers, so let us look at two right quick. Benjamin Franklin was a writer, an inventor, and a scholar. Thomas Payne was a seamstress. Both owned a printing press. Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richards Almanac” is still quoted today. Thomas Payne edited a magazine and his pamphlets that were self published called “Common Sense” were some of the most provocative writings that stirred and built a nation. So would we say that this sounds shady enough that they would be saying Benjamin Franklin is protected by the government, but Thomas Payne wouldn’t be?
By today’s definition, you could also associate with his government connections, Benjamin Franklin with the established media sources and Thomas Payne with writing for online media. Without one of them history would never have been the same. Could you honestly say that both of these distinguished gentlemen were not deserving of the title of “Journalist”? But this is in fact what Dianne Feinstein has attempted to do.
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The first version of a media shield law that handily made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday defined for the first time what constitutes a “real reporter” deserving of extra protection versus what Sen Feinstein called a “17-year-old blogger” who she said doesn’t deserve a legal shield. One question that could be asked of that is that she covered a teen bullying case for the media, and knowing that the kid that was bullied would get beat up if she tells who it is, isn’t she deserving of the protection in order to keep that kid safe?
That is what this is all about. On its face, the proposed shield law doesn’t affect the First Amendment, which at any rate doesn’t guarantee anybody’s right to publish whatever they want. The bill simply adds extra protections against being forced to testify about sources for established reporters and freelancers with a “considerable” amount of publishing experience. It also allows a judge to make a declaration as to who’s a journalist and who’s not in an attempt to build the shield as wide as possible.
“All we’re doing is adding privilege to existing First Amendment rights, so there is, logically, zero First Amendment threat out of this,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, (D) of Rhode Island.
Some Journalists and Law Professors disagree, suggesting that such a law would give the Department of Justice powerful discretion that could potentially be used to intimidate amateur reporters who are also working in the public interest.
The boom in online news arguably has helped polarize the American political scene, but it has also given readers access to far more data and viewpoints than they had under the system of editors and reporters that make up the traditional American newsroom.
Moreover, largely because the First Amendment extends press freedoms to all Americans, the US has no special licensing requirements for journalists meaning that the shield law, many would be the country’s first attempt to create what critics call an “elite” tier for the institutional press. Many others would call it a state ran media source where the government could literally tell the media what to write, say, or print. If they did not they could face punishment by the government or intimidation by the Department of Justice.
“Journalism is an activity, not a profession,” wrote University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, who mans the popular InstaPundit blog.
Some senators agreed. “It strikes me that we are on dangerous territory if we are drawing distinctions that are treating some engaged in the process of reporting and journalism better than others,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, (R) of Texas. “Essentially as I understand this amendment, it protects what I would characterize as the ‘corporate media’…. But it leaves out citizen bloggers.”
This is not the first time that Ms. Feinstein has gone out of her way to re-define what a journalist is in this country or the Senate has attempted to control the media. Earlier this year Sen. Feinstein did not like what she saw in one news source and tried to sue for slander (the case was dismissed as frivolous). Also this year we saw the Obama Administration kick out the Fox News reporters out of a press conference until that made national headlines. Perhaps if Ms. Feinstein did not make such comments as “Of course my constituents are against the war, but they don’t know what I do” or “I don’t like the way this hearing is going so I asked Chairman Whitehouse if I could have another with a more selective committee” to the press when she didn’t get her way on the Second Amendment, then she wouldn’t have to worry about her feelings hurt by the press in the paper. You can see her stating that the First Amendment is a privilege and not a right below during the committee hearing.