Senators can’t agree on who’s a journalist

McClatchy

U.S. Senators “couldn’t agree on the definition of ‘journalist’” during a hearing on a proposed shield law Thursday, Kate Irby reports. That could muddle the prospects of such legislation.

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.

But senators disagreed on how to define journalists, since some thought the bill’s definition wasn’t specific enough.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein said such a law should apply only to “real reporters.”

“We’re very careful in this bill to distinguish journalists from those who shouldn’t be protected, WikiLeaks and all those, and we’ve ensured that,” Irby reports Sen. Chuck Schumer said. “But there are people who write and do real journalism, in different ways than we’re used to. They should not be excluded from this bill.”

In 2009, Jack Shafer wrote that shield laws reserve “the highest wattage of the First Amendment…only to the guild that makes up the media industry. The amendment really belongs to anybody who decides to express themselves.”

Correction: The McClatchy piece this post aggregates originally attributed some of Feinstein’s remarks to Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

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  • Robert Knilands

    Their job is not to protect the journalists. Read the First Amendment. You won’t find your statement, or anything close to it, in there.

  • Aggie L

    There’s a reason the ’5th Estate’ has evolved; corporate owned news is no longer serving the people. We all are the 5th Estate.

  • Aggie L

    I’m having trouble deciding who’s a real Senator. The ones who legislate for the people, or obstruct under pressure from specialized interests.

  • MarkCTN

    This’ my most favorite subject and has been for years now. It’s sad to see and hear Senators/politicians of the supposedly/assumed ‘Free World’ deliberately try to change the goal post in a quest to suppress the information/truth. Since the politicians seem not interested in historical events, let me take them back in time:
    December 10, 1948 at Palais de Chaillot. The was the venue of the UN General Assembly that adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes Article 19:
    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
    If the UN General Assembly had had some exclusions for this Article, they wouldn’t have used the word “Everyone”… “Tout individu”… “Каждый человек”… “Todo individuo”…

  • Guest

    This’ my most favorite subject and has been for years now. It’s sad to see and hear Senators/politicians of the supposedly/assumed ‘Free World’ deliberately try to change the goal post in a quest to suppress the information/truth. Since the politicians seem not interested in historical events, let me take them back in time:
    December 10, 1948 at Palais de Chaillot. The was the venue of the UN General Assembly that adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes Article 19:
    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
    If the UN General Assembly had had some exclusions for this Article, they wouldn’t have used the word “Everyone”… “Tout individu”… “Каждый человек”… “Todo individuo”…

  • Dr. Ron Thomas, Jr.

    First, we would have needed a bigger college … :)
    Amazingly, you and I can come to a gentlemanly agreement in less than 24 hours and less that 1,000 words. However, the folks that brought you a health care bill and attendant regulations that wouldn’t fit in my truck bed, somehow can’t come to our same simple conclusion.
    As a conservative thinker, I often swam upstream in academe or government. I figure anything that wasn’t written in the Constitution was still the purview of the states and citizens. My mother should never have taught me to read and then I’d be less confused.

  • http://leatherpenguin.com/ TC_LeatherPenguin

    Agreed: You’re just as ordinary a citizen as me, Doc; your trade (as journalist and/or teacher of said trade) gives you no better grace than I may possess. While Sen. Feinstein seems to believe that the manufactured mantle of “journalist” (itself an aggrandizement) should only be worn by one who receives a paycheck from a media company (http://bit.ly/1cnhbTY), the pamphleteers of the 18th Century–say, as you noted, Thomas Paine–would take a scourge to a Congress which would even think of employing such terms.

  • Ronny

    ” Journalist” Is not defined as a media person that never writes articles etc containing leaked data from governments.

  • Ronny

    Please, everyone, send them a photocopy of a dictionary page with the word “Journalist”

  • Ronny

    It’s not up to Senators to decide, a definition of a word or words is in the dictionary. Their only job is to protect the journalists. If it came to a dispute, it would be up to a court to decide how well a person fits the definition.

  • menloman

    Funny how Eric Holder’s name keeps getting edited out of this sory, when he is responsible for initiating it. By journolistno less.

  • Dr. Ron Thomas, Jr.

    What you are describing are the “press” license plates and stickers issued by Sheriff’s Offices. I can understand the logistics of limiting how many people can be in a press box or on the sidelines. But, that is why we have pools.

    Whatever the rules are called in a given state, the various open meeting/open records laws exist because those are rights of citizens. The press uses them on behalf of the collected citizenry, who in turn expect the press to come back with a true account of what they saw.

    I like your idea about shield laws also being rights of citizens. In fact, it makes sense to me as an extension of Fifth Amendment protections, as well as First.

  • Dr. Ron Thomas, Jr.

    Actually, I think we are in agreement so I’ll apologize for any misconception I left behind. I was not speaking of the press as a guild (in the way that only doctors can make new doctors, only lawyers can make new lawyers, etc.).

    I mean that a member of the “press” is free to identify himself or herself as such, just as that person would be free to speak in the public square, with no licensing requirement or litmus test. Neither Thomas Paine or Truman Capote needed government permission to engage in their craft.

    The examples of my students or myself as a freelancer were to illustrate precisely your point. I think we both agree that no entity of government gets to say what the trappings are of a “legitimate” journalistic enterprise. I daresay that there are thousands of bloggers whose followers far outnumber the 3,500 papers my students put out on campus every two weeks.

    In fact, one of the courses I am teaching this fall is “Multimedia Reporting” and it is built specifically for the one-person operation who publishes virtually.

  • http://leatherpenguin.com/ TC_LeatherPenguin

    “Congress shall pass no law infringing the freedom of the press” has nothing to do with your journalism students, and it certainly does not infer upon your guild the right to decide who the clause covers. It is about the ability to publish information for public dissemination, be it the NY Times or some bloke with a Blogspot account.

  • Semanticleo

    Local cops usually have say over who’s a journalist if you want credentials. You have to be mainstream.
    EVERYONE should qualify for any Shield Laws arising out of this debate. The CLUB mentality of our betters requires it

  • stuck411

    Hmm, those early Colonial flyers that got printed up in the 1700s were frowned upon by the powers that be. The British considered news that was pro American Revolution to be criminal. It’s the reason the founding fathers wanted freedom of speech & freedom of the press. They didn’t split hairs to spell out that you had to have had 4 yrs of education & work at a daily press to be given those protections. They wanted EVERYONE to have the freedom. It was and is the only way to expose corruption when it occurs. It’s the only way to bend the rudder of progress to right injustices. The founders knew that no one should determine who got to say their mind and who couldn’t. That was what Kings & Popes did. Democracy depends upon an unfettered door of information. The crackpots included.

  • http://rtberner.blogspot.com/ R Thomas Berner

    It’s a shame that U.S. senators don’t understand the First Amendment. We are all journalists.

  • ranchdancer

    Journalism is the activity, or product, of journalists or others engaged in the preparation of written, visual, or audio material intended for dissemination through public media with reference to factual, ongoing events of public concern. It is intended to inform society about itself and to make events public that would otherwise remain private.
    Schumky Schumer and his co-whores should be ashamed to even contemplate such laws. Every liberal should be ashamed of these power hungry tyrants looking to destroy every modicum of liberty that our military fights to preserve.
    I say, it’s time to say, ” (rhymes with Chuck) F— Chuck!

  • gitarfan

    Reporters don’t deserve “special privilege”. The 1st amendment is for everyone. What clueless politicians.

  • Dr. Ron Thomas, Jr.

    Congress shall pass no law infringing the freedom of the press, which I take to mean that only the press can say who the press is or isn’t. It was not my journalism students’ primary activity to be a reporter but when they went out after class to cover a story then they were reporters. Likewise, I was a reporter, eve if I only wrote a magazine article every other month.

    You know, it would be interesting to see how legislators define themselves. They certainly don’t pass laws as a full-time job (thankfully) and they are going to be off until after Labor Day I think we should only have to listen to “real legislators.”

  • OnTheWrite

    And we shouldn’t let the Constitution stand in the way. There is way too much reporting going on… by Conservative reporters.

  • ProducerMatthew

    “‘We’re very careful in this bill to distinguish journalists from those who shouldn’t be protected, WikiLeaks and all those, and we’ve ensured that,’ Irby reports Sen. Chuck Schumer said.”

    Elected officials should not get to choose who they consider, or do not consider, a ‘journalist’ or what they consider, or do not consider, to be a product of ‘journalism’ based solely on which publications and people they agree with — Wikileaks included.

    Wikileaks is an organization that employs people to prepare, edit and present material that is handed over to them by those with authority to access said material. How is this any different from the Washington Post, the New York Times or the Guardian?