Senator Lindsey Graham Apparently Not Sure If Bloggers Deserve 'First Amendment Protection'
from the well,-that's-interesting dept
"Who is a journalist is a question we need to ask ourselves," he said. "Is any blogger out there saying anything—do they deserve First Amendment protection? These are the issues of our times."Now, as many people will rightly point out, within the context it's pretty clear that he spoke imprecisely. He was discussing a potential shield law for journalists. He wasn't really suggesting that bloggers might not deserve any First Amendment rights. I'm pretty sure he'd agree that they do, in fact, have the right to free speech. Instead, he's referring to another part of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press.
But, I'll argue that even in that context, the statement is really no less ridiculous. For years, Congress has debated a shield law for journalists, which basically allows them to protect their sources without legal liability. And each time it's debated, this issue comes up, with some in Congress seeking to carve out "new media," always using the same bogus rationale, arguing that if "bloggers" get shield law protection, then it means anyone can refuse to give up information on anyone else, by claiming to be a blogger.
This is hyperbolic and untrue.
As we've pointed out, there's a simple way to solve that problem: just make the shield law cover acts of journalism rather than target journalists. Many people may not be journalists by profession, but still, at times, perform journalism. And it's not that difficult to figure out which is which. Otherwise, you're carving out a special class of people in an arena in which people doing the exact same thing would face different rules.
And the problems of trying to carve out "journalists" instead of acts of "journalism" become pretty clear, pretty quickly. The last time the shield law concept was being debated, Senators Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein tried to add a carve out that made it clear that Wikileaks should not be protected by the law. And that should scare people. Because when the government can magically decide that this kind of journalism is protected, while that kind of journalism which embarrasses the government is not protected, then you no longer have freedom of the press. At all.
So Senator Graham's question is quite ridiculous. The "Freedom of the press" needs to cover all acts of journalism, not just those who qualify as "journalists" under an amorphous standard, which is likely to be whether or not a court believes a certain publication is "legit" enough.