Free Press

Sen. Durbin Wants to Decide Who a Journalist Is. That's Easy. Everybody Is a Journalist.

The First Amendment cares not for your arbitrary guidelines


"And really, should people who just go around saying stuff have freedom of speech just because?"
Credit: Center for American Progress Action Fund / Foter / CC BY-ND

Glenn Harlan "Instapundit" Reynolds (seen earlier today writing about the sanctity of one's home and the Third Amendment) elegantly schooled Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin today in the New York Post. Durbin recently turned to the pages of the Chicago Sun-Times to write that the federal government needs to define what a real "journalist" is to determine who is accorded media protections like shield laws and, you know, consitutional rights. By which, he means, probably not those feckless bloggers who may not have bosses to call and yell at if you don't like what they've written. He suggested as much back in May.

Reynolds reminds:

Personally, I think a journalist is someone who's doing journalism, whether they get paid for it or not.

And Durbin is a constitutional ignoramus if he thinks that when the Framers talked about freedom of the press, they were talking about freedom for the press as an institution.

Journalism is indeed an activity, not a profession, and though we often refer to institutionalized media as "the press," we should remember that James Madison talked about freedom of the press as "freedom in the use of the press" — that is, the freedom to publish, not simply freedom for media organizations.

In Madison's day, of course, the distinction wasn't as significant as it became later, when newspaper publishing became an industrial activity. It was easy to be a pamphleteer in Madison's time, and there was real influence in being such.

It's such a tiresome argument to keep having (Matt Welch wrote about shielding journalism, rather than journalists, back in 2005). Tweeting about a car crash you saw on the interstate is an act of journalism. It doesn't matter that only a few of your friends might see it or care. You are passing along information. That's all journalism is. The right of free speech doesn't apply only to important speech or for people who are paid to speak. Freedom of religious expression doesn't apply only to the minister or rabbi. It applies to everybody. Any rule that applies to journalists should by its nature apply to anybody who is providing information to others.

In my experience, though, Durbin's misguided idea of journalism as an industry rather than an action isn't confined to politicians. Sometimes it's even perpetuated within the field. More than once in my time at a newspaper I've heard people say something to the effect of, "The media is the only industry that has protections written into the Bill of Rights." That's like saying that speechwriters get special recognition from the First Amendment.

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  1. And that’s another thing that Rand had in A.S. the idea of government licensing journalists and giving them need-this-to-work cards.

    So Durbin + E-verify = what? You’d have to be a crazy Randroider to believe anything she had to say!

  2. Did our founding fathers have a definition of who a journalist is?

    1. Possibly, but they didn’t see fit to make anything in the Constitution utilize that definition.

    2. Who cares? I’m not going to let some document written 100 years ago in Anglo-Saxon by white male slaveowners limit my sacred right to be protected from people who practice journalism without a license.

    3. There wasn’t such a thing as journalism degrees or media corporations. Given the roll that the underground press played in the Revolution, bloggers are far more like their conception of the press than lickspittles like Krugman or Klein.

      1. *role* ugh

    4. Yep. If you had a press you had freedom of the press. Otherwise you had freedom of speech. So, basically, the set of adults in the US.

      1. What is the difference between Fox news getting its stories from the AP wire or Reuters and then putting their spin on a story and a blogger doing the same?

        1. There isn’t one, that’s the point.

  3. I believe there’s caselaw on this, too, basically saying that it’s the act of trying to communicate to others. It really should be viewed as an individual right, though it’s in practice one that we see exercised by institutions.

    1. I think you mean “one that we see exercised by corporations.” Evil evil corporations!

      1. No, no, no, media corporations aren’t evil. They’re wonderful. Unless they’ve got a conservative slant. Then they’re evil.

        1. Liek FAUX NOOZ!

    1. So how many fatalities did we just see?

    2. That one fell on his behindus!

  4. EAP Wants to Decide Who a Senator Is. That’s Easy. Everybody Is a Senator.

  5. Hey, we beat on folks for no alt text; we owe a big shout-out to Scott for that one!

  6. Crony capitalists think in terms of institutions made up of insiders. Is this surprising to anyone? When you hear Durbin or others of his kind talking about “the press,” they are of course talking about the annointed, card-carrying clique of insiders, and about extending privileges and benefits (in this case, those of the First Amendment) to just them. This episode is an illustration of crony capitalism in action. Know your enemy.

    1. nice one. i vote this up.

    2. And it is not a coincidence that the established, professional press is reliably on the side of Durbin and other Democrats, and that a lot of those pesky bloggers and freelancers are not.

      By the way, where is Mr. Buttplug to chime in and claim that Bush and Reagan were worse, or are somehow to blame for Durbin’s proposal?

      1. I think he died of testicular AIDS. I’m sure going to miss the guy.

  7. If only it were easy to oust politicians that show such an appalling lack of understanding of the Constitution. I don’t care who or what they vote for.

    1. Why should politicians know anything about the Constitution? The people who elect them sure as hell don’t.

  8. Very few things piss me off as much as the suggestion that freedom of the press, as the term is used in the First Amendment, is only applicable to professional journalists. It especially pisses me off when the mainstream media discusses it that way.

    When blogging first started catching on, the establishment media were routinely accusing bloggers of not being worthy of the same protections enjoyed by traditional news outlets. The mainstream media is now nothing more than a propaganda delivery machine. If you can listen to it for more than a minute and are not insulted by it, then your brain is already nothing but jello.

    1. Remember, corporations are not people, and don’t have free speech rights. But only big corporations, and people who work for big corporations, have freedom of press.

  9. ” Sometimes it’s even perpetuated within the field.”

    It’s most especially perpetuated within the field. I have had numerous arguments with Professional Journalists arguing that they are SPECIAL, and need protections and get out of jail free cards because they follow STANDARDS, as opposed to those bloggers who will just print anything and are actually harming society with their horrible libelous trash-masquerading-as-reporting.

    This is only going to get worse. As Industrial Journalism is increasingly pressured by alternative media, they will react like all other big industries do- by trying to get the government to enact barriers to entry.

  10. I hate the State of Illinois so much for voting for this guy to “represent” me. I met him once and he was nice but you still felt that he was swarmy politicians who would do anything to accumulate power.

    1. I saw Kay Hagen around town when she was in her mid forties. Really great ass. I don’t know if it is still that hot, but back then there was some serious gravity defiance.

  11. In response to alt-text: Yes. FYTW.

  12. Freedom means the freedom to be granted permission. So it’s only journalism if you have asked and been granted permission by god government to spread information. After you have been granted permission, freedom becomes the freedom to take orders. All of these freedoms can be taken away should you disobey or refuse to submit to any representative of god government.

    Now let us pray.

    Our Father, who art in Washington, hallowed by thy name…

    1. Freedom means the freedom to be granted permission.

      I hate that some people actually believe this without a second thought. Then again, I guess it’s more the norm throughout history.

      1. I keep thinking of the zero. The number that isn’t a number. It’s nothing. A placeholder. Yet without it, math beyond basic counting doesn’t happen. Try to solve for x without using zero. Good luck.

        Liberty is an absence of coercion. But without coercion you can’t control the results. What emerges might not be according to your plan. And that’s scary.

        Yet, like math with the concept of zero, so much more can be accomplished.

        People who can’t understand liberty are like primitive mathematicians who can’t understand zero.

        Yet they are the ones who seek out and attain positions of power.

        Now that… is scary.

  13. Normally I’d say that Durbin has a punchable face, but really in that pic, it looks like he is maybe a little punch-drunk.

  14. “And Durbin is a constitutional ignoramus….”

    The sentence was perfectly complete at that point – no need to continue.

  15. For Durbin, it is not about journalism and the Constitution. It is about another tool to control the media.

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