Drudge hates new shield bill, but is defining ‘journalist’ really ‘fascist’?
A media shield law approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee defines a “real reporter” deserving of extra protection. Bloggers, “citizen journalists,” and others cry “foul!”
In its attempt to define who’s a journalist and who’s not, is the US Senate trying to say that Thomas Paine, a corset-maker, wouldn’t have deserved the same protections from government heavy-handedness as a newspaper publisher like Ben Franklin?
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. Dianne Feinstein called a “17-year-old blogger” who doesn’t deserve a legal shield.
While Mr. Paine eventually edited magazines in the United States, he’s best known for his pamphleteering days, when he self-published “Common Sense,” one of the American Revolution’s most poignant calls to arms. Modern bloggers often see themselves as the inheritors of the pamphleteering tradition, and many wondered on Friday whether Paine would be covered under the proposed law.
That Congress is attempting to define “journalist” at all in order to expand protections after a number of high-profile leak cases and ensuing Justice Department prosecutions caused blog impresario Matt Drudge to call Ms. Feinstein a “fascist” on Twitter, suggesting that the law would subvert a free press by giving institutional advantage to government-approved media outlets.
“Federal judge once ruled Drudge ‘is not a reporter, a journalist, or a newsgatherer,’” Mr. Drudge, proprietor of the massive news aggregator site Drudge Report, Tweeted Friday. “Millions of readers a day come for cooking recipes??!”
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.