The Spectacle Blog

Have You Got Your ‘Official Government Approved Journalist’ License Yet?

By on 7.8.13 | 1:39PM

A professional journalist is someone who gets paid to write for a periodical publication. That's not so diffcult to understand, and being a professional journalist does not entitle anyone to special privileges. (Trust me: I've tried to explain to state troopers that speed limits are an infringement of "freedom of the press," but they didn't buy it.) However, federal courts have at times ruled that journalists cannot be required to reveal their sources and, on the basis of this doctrine, Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin says government "must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive. ... It’s long past time for Congress to create a federal law that defines and protects journalists."

Sources tell me that Dick Durbin is a dangerous idiot, and I'm pretty sure the editors of The American Spectator would defend my right as a journalist to protect the anonymity of my sources. Of course, it is not illegal to call a U.S. Senator a dangerous idiot, or otherwise the feds would have a lot of us locked up by now. Among the other dangerous idiocies that Durbin published was this:

Journalists should have reasonable legal protections to do their important work. But not every blogger, tweeter or Facebook user is a “journalist.” While social media allows tens of millions of people to share information publicly, it does not entitle them to special legal protections to ignore requests for documents or information from grand juries, judges or other law enforcement personnel.

Who ever said that journalists are entitled "to special legal protections"? The dangerous idiot whom Illinois elected to the Senate seems to confuse the First and Fifth amendments. Certainly, I can "ignore requests for documents or information" and defy any "grand juries, judges or other law enforcement personnel," but so can anybody else. You have the right to remain silent. And then if the cops arrest you for refusing to comply, you're entitled to your day in court to prove that it's within your right to withold those "documents or information." But these are not "special legal protections" which only journalists can claim. A press pass is not a license to break the law, no matter what that dangerous idiot Dick Durbin says, and it doesn't matter if you're a reporter for the New York Times or a "blogger, tweeter or Facebook user."

Other than his well-known dangerous idiocy, what inspired Durbin to declare that it's up to Congress (!) to define who is or is not a "journalist"?

Probably it was the Edward Snowden episode, or maybe such incidents as "Anonymous" spokesman Barrett Brown's meltdown. On the one hand, we've got people publishing classified documents and, on the other hand, we've got a lot of ill-qualified nutjobs on the Internet who think they're the next Woodward and Bernstein. These are problems, however, that don't require the "solution" that Dick Durbin prescribes. Glenn Reynolds is a law professor not a journalist, but he is certainly correct about this:

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.

For the sake of brevity, a professional journalist probably would have stopped after declaring Durbin an ignoramus. And as for "the press as an institution," an insane asylum is also an institution, as is Congress. But I don't trust Congress to decide whether or not I'm a journalist and, frankly, I think Illinois sent Dick Durbin to the wrong institution.

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