Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Subservient enough to be a journalist?

We don't normally do this but Glenn Reynolds aka instapundit recently penned a column so spot on for USA Today we decided to reproduce it in its entirety below.

We've touched on it 2 or 3 times in the recent past but Reynolds has been going after this issue with hammer and tongs relentlessly. The issue we are referring to is our betters in Washington D.C. attempting to define journalism as a profession rather than an activity. This is being done in a shamefully cynical manner as protecting journalist whistleblowers when they expose government secrets.

Of course, you see what's going on here: whistleblower shield laws will protect only those journalist or journalist organizations vetted by the federal government. Pesky independent journalists and especially blogs like Reynolds' , Legal Insurrection, HotAir and yours truly that are not behaving properly need not apply.

The statist political class is not very fond of freedom of the press as if the Department of Justice snooping of 20 Associated Press employees and the naming of Fox News Jame Rosen as an unindicted criminal co-conspirator did not alert you to that fact already:

Mr. Reynolds, take it away:

Last week, stung by reactions to phone-snooping on reporters* (and, in at least one case, a reporter's parents), the Justice Department issued new guidelines for dealing with the media when investigating leaks. Many people are cheering these guidelines, but I'm not sure they're good enough.

I have two problems: First, in the incidents mentioned above, according to Associated Press President Gary Pruitt, the Justice Department violated its old guidelines. If the Justice Department didn't follow its own rules before, why is it more likely to follow the new rules? Ultimately, it's hard to trust an administration that seems to see every legal requirement as, like ObamaCare, waivable when inconvenient.

My second problem is more general. Does this policy protect anyone doing journalism, or just members of the establishment? The Justice Department talks about protection for "news media" (the guidelines don't use the word "press") but doesn't provide any guidance on just who that is. Presumably, if you're drawing a paycheck from the New York Times or Gannett (the parent company of USA TODAY), you're covered. (But note that, not too long ago, the Obama administration was claiming that Fox News, home of James Rosen, one of the key targets of recent Justice Department snooping, was not a "legitimate news organization.") If the Justice Department can pick and choose in this fashion, the guidelines don't mean much.

But even if the guidelines extend to everyone who draws a paycheck as a reporter or pundit -- hey, I guess that would include me -- that's still not enough. In this era of blogging, social media and independent journalism, there are an awful lot of people doing serious journalism who aren't drawing a paycheck from a media organization. They deserve protection, too. Journalism is an activity, not a profession.

James O'Keefe -- who has a new book out, Breakthrough: Our Guerrilla War To Expose Fraud And Save Democracy -- has conducted a number of daring undercover exposes of voter fraud and financial abuse, one of which led Congress to defund the corrupt ACORN social-activist group. Independent journalists such as Michael Totten, Michael Yon, J.D. Johannes, and Bill Roggio covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in ways that traditional media seldom did -- for the most part, supported by donations directly from their readers. No media paycheck there.

And the most stunning on-the-scene reporting today -- from Egypt, for example, or the scene of the Asiana air crash last week -- comes via Twitter, blogs and Facebook. Those people aren't drawing a media paycheck either, but they're doing real reporting. Why should they get short shrift?

Government licensing of the press is one of the biggest First Amendment no-nos. But if the government is in the business of deciding who counts as a "legitimate news organization" -- and, more importantly, who doesn't -- then the result looks suspiciously like a licensing scheme of some sort.

It also looks kind of clubby. Washington is already rife with crony capitalism, but if these protections are limited to Big Media journalists it starts to look a lot like crony journalism. The administration gives journalism's old-boy-network a pass, in exchange for not rocking the boat too much, while leaving itself free to go after the very outsiders who are most likely to do hard-hitting investigations.

Not coincidentally, NBC talking head David Gregory -- highly sympathetic to the Obama White House -- recently asked blogger Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Edward Snowden/NSA story, if he was a "real journalist," with the strong implication that he was not. He's certainly broken more stories critical of the White House than Gregory has.

Journalism, especially in the 21st century, isn't the paid profession of a favored few. It's an activity in which all Americans can take part. If the Department of Justice isn't prepared to acknowledge that, then it hasn't really addressed its problems at all.

To riff off our boy KT, we don't think George and the boys picked a fight with the British empire just so that an elite few could choose who it was that could report on them without fear of reprisal.

The government's official seal of approval with respect to journalists and journalism is certainly no hallmark of a free republic regardless of the stated good intentions.

* Reynolds, unfortunately soft-pedals this one. Department of Justice HMFIC Eric Holder was "stung" only after we all found out about the snooping.


K T Cat said...

Fascism is as fascism does.

Thanks for the linky goodness.

K T Cat said...