Senate Struggles to Define Journalism in a Way That Doesn’t Include WikiLeaks

The Senate’s efforts to craft a federal shield law for reporters are being bogged down with the problem that the Senate doesn’t actually want to shield anybody that doesn’t perform journalism the way they think journalism should be performed. Via McClatchy:

The Senate Judiciary Committee, looking to provide protections for journalists and their sources, ran into a roadblock Thursday when lawmakers couldn’t agree on the definition of “journalist.”

Under the legislation, journalists wouldn’t have to comply with subpoenas or court orders forcing them to reveal sources or confidential information unless a judge first determines there’s reason to think that a crime has occurred and government officials have exhausted all other alternatives.

It’s the third time Congress has considered a “shield law” for journalists. Similar bills have failed despite bipartisan support. …

The bill defines a journalist as 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.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is worried such a definition might include WikiLeaks and wants to restrict the shield law to journalists who get paid, though there’s nothing in the definition of journalism that indicates that pay is a necessary component (just ask a reporter working off-the-clock).

Previously, I explained that everybody is a journalist.

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  • ||

    OT: You know who else doesn't define journalism in a coherent manner? A feminist:

    Let’s break this down. According to the AP, the crucial facts you need to know about Rosoff right off the bat are that:

    1. She was 35 and single.
    2. She was a smoker.
    3. She invited a man back to her apartment late at night on a first date. 4. The man warned her not to lean against the balcony, but she did it anyway.

    The implication being that this smoking slut totally had it coming. A reader is left with the distinct impression that if Rosoff hadn’t invited her date inside, hadn’t gone outside to smoke a cigarette, and hadn’t defied the advice of the wise and logical man she was with, she would still be alive. According to the AP story’s subtext, the problem wasn’t that Rosoff’s balcony railing was shoddy and unsafe—it was that Rosoff defied gender norms by being unmarried at 35, by being sexually liberal, and by insisting on making her own decisions instead of deferring to men’s logic.

    And this wasn't written by Marcotte.

  • Dweebston||

    Is this the promising career Slate denigrates the AP for failing to report?

  • Y||

    Macgotman15's buddy's half sister is working a respectable 71.35 hours a week.

  • Agammamon||

    She's a hard-charger, unlike that douche from a couple of days ago only putting in 10 hours a week.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Wait... if this was her place, should she have been the one to know that the balcony was unsafe? Why was he warning her? I'm confused.

  • kinnath||

    He said "you shouldn't do that". She said "I do it all the time". Then she fell to her death.

    Isn't it ironic.

  • Irish||

    He said "you shouldn't do that". She said "I do it all the time". Then she fell to her death.

    Well, this seems like one time when she should have deferred to a man's logic.

    I also like the term 'man's logic.' A good idea is a good idea, and not doing something stupid that results in you falling off a roof is a good idea.

  • ||

    It's like rain on your wedding day.

  • ||

    This is what happens when you are stupid enough to become so obsessed with your particular political ideology that you literally cannot see anything outside of it. Whoever this moron is, they would politicize a grilled cheese sandwich. It's now such an integral part of them that they cannot live a normal life. Which is fine, because if you're going to be this idiotic, you should probably be incredibly unhappy, because you are a moron.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    The comments, to their credit, are absolute gold, though.

    Sureshot

    Maybe Amanda bunked off early and someone needed to provide backup for the "unhinged outrage" task list.
    TrollBot5000

    Even the proposed rewrite buries the lede: Heroic woman pays the ultimate price for refusing to heed patronizing advice from the phallocracy.
  • ||

    Did that cheese come from happy California cows Epi? DID IT!?

  • ||

    And now I'm hungry, jesse, you jerk.

    Luckily we're grilling here at work for lunch...on the first rainy day in over 30 days. At least I'm having some booze, though. Unfortunately, the person who brought booze brought only Mike's Hard Lemonade and Cider, which is really, really gross, but...it's booze and it's Friday so fuck it, I'll drink it.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    A real alpha male would empty the bottle, smash it over the offending party's head, then send him back to the liquor store.

  • ||

    It gets worse; I just did two shots of Fireball. Utterly vile. This is what you get when you let a party girl organize the lunch grilling.

  • ||

    But Epi, Fireball is like totes popular among the college crowd these days!

  • Dweebston||

    Hold up, grilling and drinking at work? You're just letting that hang?

    ...you went Gault's Gulch on us, didn't you?

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    "You may accuse me of overreacting"

    Oh, now why would anyone go and do a thing like that?

  • kinnath||

    I read the original report, and it never would have occurred to me that the writer was slut-shaming the women that fell. I guess that proves I'm part of the patriarchy.

  • ||

    I'm hoping that was a post-coital cigarette she was smoking, otherwise that dude wasted $200 on dinner for nothing.

  • R C Dean||

    Oh, I dunno. He got an awesome story out of it.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Awesome? blah - no thanks. Watching people die isn't the most pleasant experience in the world.

  • ||

    "Let's just say she went down on the first date."

    But yeah, seeing that would horrify anyone.

  • Careless||

    I feel bad for laughing at this.
    Also:

    ERRY: Hey, Georgie! I'm doing some research down at the coffee shop. Your story's the one.

    GEORGE: My story?

    JERRY: Yeah, your widower story's tested through the roof. (various patrons give the thumbs up in approval)

  • Anonymous Coward||

    "Let's just say she went down on the first date."

    *Slow clap*

  • Ted S.||

    She didn't know that the railing on her own balcony was unsafe?

    I'm also astonished the feminists aren't saying that women who smoke deserve to die.

  • Agammamon||

    Its about priorities. If she had died on her own then yeah, but in this case there was a higher priority interrupt.

  • ||

    The Senate Judiciary Committee, looking to provide protections for journalists and their sources, ran into a roadblock Thursday when lawmakers couldn’t agree on the definition of “journalist.”

    Under the legislation, journalists wouldn’t have to comply with subpoenas or court orders forcing them to reveal sources or confidential information unless a judge first determines there’s reason to think that a crime has occurred and government officials have exhausted all other alternatives.

    That's a slightly better standard in theory, although realistically don't judges tend to side with the government?

    In any case a journalist should be any person or persons who publish information with the intention of reporting facts and the truth.

  • Rasilio||

    "In any case a journalist should be any person or persons who publish information with the intention of reporting facts and the truth."

    Wouldn't this result in every reporter for the NYT left unprotected by the law?

  • ||

    Win-win!

  • ||

    That makes it a win in my book

  • ||

    Nice.

  • pmains||

    Good grief. Why don't they just bring back Bills of at Attainder and be done with it? Call it something else, like "Citizens' Justice Legislation," or "American Protection Acts." That kind of minimal obfuscation should provide the Justice Roberts with the fig leaf he needs.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Why would we want a "journalists get out of subpoenas free" law anyway? Just pass a law saying that nobody can be compelled by the courts to reveal confidential sources or information.

  • ||

    But...but then people might tell the government to go fuck itself when it demands information. The government can't have that, Hugh. No, it likes being able to threaten people with jail time if they don't respond to its petulant demands.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Who cares what the government likes.

  • ||

    But the government is ALL OF US. We all belong to it! Telling it to fuck off is the same as telling your neighbor to fuck off your children to fuck off.

  • gaijin||

    the Government?

  • ||

    Can't they just ask the NSA for the information anyway?

  • Agammamon||

    The NSA *has* the info; The NSA can't *find* the specific info you want.

  • Paul.||

    Perhaps some law guaranteeing the right of free speech is in order.

  • ||

    Yeah, but the next thing you know people will be yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater or saying offensive things on television or making a movie about a presidential candidate. We can't have that now can we?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Once everyone can be a journalist, no one will be special.

  • UnCivilServant||

    With the current level of technology, I am a journalist, as is everyone else in this country.

    We should all have the shield, as we are simply exercising our first ammendment rights to freedom of the press.

  • gaijin||

    If they try to impose some special 'employment/payment' criteria in defining a journalist, I could imagine several organizations sprouting up that offered, in return for a small professional fee, a payment in kind for information published. So, for instance, Reason could offer to pay all contributors to Hit n Run, say $25 and issue an 'official Reason Press license'...all for coughing up a $50 Annual journalist account access fee.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Wow, these people are vile.

  • ||

    That's an understatement.

  • R C Dean||

    journalists wouldn’t have to comply with subpoenas or court orders forcing them to reveal sources or confidential information unless a judge first determines there’s reason to think that a crime has occurred and government officials have exhausted all other alternatives.

    I'm trying to figure out why the government should be able to issue a subpoena to anyone without first showing that a crime has occurred and government officials have exhausted all other alternatives.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Well, you see, when an embarassing fact finds its way into the wild, the hounds have little way to find out where it came from, so they go fishing against the only name they can identify, though they have no proof that the information arrive via way of a crime.

  • kinnath||

    It if congress fixes the root problem, then they won't have any work to do in the future. So they chose to fix the symptom which causes future problems which allows them to continue to draw a salary.

  • Ted S.||

    For the same reason they're able to get warrants on probable cause and can do Terry stops.

    And get pharmacists to hand over prescription information.

  • Paul.||

    This shield law is the single most dangerous thing facing the American people and the future of democracy. It must be killed with fire.

  • ||

    The thing is, I doubt any shield law could survive a constitutional challenge. It is a direct affront to the First Amendment, and at least the Supremes have been moderately good about supporting the 1st.

  • Hyperion||

    Why is our congress discussing what a journalist is? Is that what they are supposed to be doing?

    Let me help. A journalist is someone who writes something, publishes it somewhere, and people read it.

    Now get to work repealing some of the non-sense that you've previously passed, and cut spending!

  • Ted S.||

    Why is our congress discussing what a journalist is?

    Because KULTUR WAR?

  • R C Dean||

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. . . . wants to restrict the shield law to journalists who get paid,

    Oh, all of a sudden the profit motive is a good thing?

  • UnCivilServant||

    What if I have a blog and get paid by advertisers?

  • R C Dean||

    You are an evil baby-raping capitalist who should be given special privileges?

  • Paul.||

    Anything with Feinstein's name on it comes with the legal acumen of a sixth grader.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Our worst and our dimmest.

  • ||

    Whoa dude, what do you have against sixth graders?

  • Paul.||

    Nothing, my hope is to replace Feinstein with a group of them.

  • ||

    I dunno if CA could handle that kind of improvement in our representation. I would replace her with a group of kindergartners and we could acclimate as they age.

  • gaijin||

    You bully! ;)

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is worried such a definition might include WikiLeaks and wants to restrict the shield law to journalists who get paid, though there’s nothing in the definition of journalism that indicates that pay is a necessary component (just ask a reporter working off-the-clock).

    So if the unpaid interns get a scoop, they can be subpeonaed, jailed, whatever Feinstein wants to happen to those who lack the government's special stamp of approval?

  • pmains||

    Exactly. She knows in her heart that some people are just bad and need to be tortured to death, but which ones? This rule of law thing is very troublesome. If we would just allow the Senate to declare the bad people guilty, we wouldn't need to fine-tune these restrictions.

  • ||

    Well, the good news is that Feinstein is 80, so this bullshit can't go on for much more than another 20 years.

  • Irish||

    Jokes on you, Feinstein's been dead since 1995. What walks the earth in the skin of the one called Feinstein is something heretofore unseen in the realms of man.

  • R C Dean||

    I thought that was Pelosi. Man, I need to catch up.

  • Agammamon||

    The OPA bound something in Feinstein's body back in the '70's. But its been trapped there so long its taken on its host's personality and foul hungers.

  • Agammamon||

    ". . . wants to restrict the shield law to journalists who get paid,"

    Of course she does. In addition to the other benefits (to her) mentioned, this give another point of leverage (by arm-twisting the reporter's employer).

    And it gets rid of all those nasty blogs who don't get 'paid', they merely receive income from advertising.

  • Agammamon||

    If everyone is a journalist, no one is.

  • RandomJackass||

    Why do we need a shield law? Don't the 1st and 5th amendments cover it, regardless of whether you're a government-approved journalist, or not?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    5th amendment only applies to testimony against yourself, not testimony against someone else (in this case, your source).

    1st amendment is murkier, as it only protects an undefined "freedom of the press". Obviously this doesn't immunize members of the press from prosecution for all offenses, so there has to be a line drawn between protected press activity and unprotected activiity. The question is whether anonymous sources are a vital necessity for doing the work of journalism -- if so, then requiring reporters to reveal sources would be akin to banning ink sales to newspapers and thus unconstitutional.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Under the legislation, journalists wouldn’t have to comply with subpoenas or court orders forcing them to reveal sources or confidential information unless a judge first determines there’s reason to think that a crime has occurred and government officials have exhausted all other alternatives."

    All the animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    "Freedom of speech and of the press" means simply that Congress keeps its nose out of what we say and publish. Anyone who publishes information or opinions, whether doing it for pay or for love of the activity, using a press, a radio or tv transmitter, a website, a billboard, skywriting, etc., is part of the press. Period. We don't need a multi-page Federal law or voluminous court opinions to define that legal status for us. And here's a tip: When the government dares to define the class of people who merit First Amendment protection because of their government-approved status as "members of the press," the freedom of press is ALREADY being abridged by that very act. When the government gets to define the very words and phrases that describe "freedom," you have none.

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