What First Amendment?

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005, 1:28 pm

In the March 27th issue of the Los Angeles Times a reporter and critic named David Shaw wrote a piece titled “Do Bloggers Deserve Basic Journalistic Protections?”. His answer to this question (a resounding NO) is another example of how various elites have taken it upon themselves to decide where and when those pesky provisions in the Bill of Rights should be allowed.

For those of you who either slept through your Civics classes or spent much of your junior high years constructing elaborate sexual fantasies, let me post just the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Pretty sweet, huh? We can worship how we want, say what we want, write about what we want, hang out with like-minded folks, and, if those or any other of our rights are infringed, we can go to Court over it. Forty-five words covers the whole shebang.

How many billions of words have been written arguing over what the First Amendment REALLY means I do not wish to venture. But let me add a few of my own to the pile. The idea that “freedom of the press” should be the sole preserve of “professional” journalists is so ludicrous and insulting as to be beyond contempt. Jack Shafer of Slate wrote a piece that properly destroys Shaw’s thesis, and as Shafer was so kind as to do the hard work I won’t parrot what he says. But since many of the folks who read this particular blog are bloggers themselves, I think its important that we, who inhabit a tiny, insulated sliver of the blogosphere, know what’s going out there in the world writ large. There have been calls to restrict what blogs can or cannot say under the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Bill, since there was so much attention brought on blogs because of the scandal involving Dan Rather and CBS and forged documents. The argument seems to be that because bloggers have no journalistic “qualifications”, and because their copy doesn’t go through layers of editorial review, they should not be provided with the same protections as “professional” journalists.

Poppycock. I was a writing major in college, I worked for the school paper for 3 years, and the mere fact that you took a few classes and know what an AP Stylebook is does not give you such an advantage that only you deserve Constitutional protections. The qualities that make a good reporter–inquisitiveness, tenacity, the ability to write a coherent sentence (followed by another one), accuracy, integrity, and the ability to accept that you don’t know everything and that this is actually a good thing–are not only to be found in the newsroom. Nor does a press pass automatically confer those skills upon you. I don’t remember any sort of baptismal ceremony before I went off to conduct my first interview.

Shaw’s most ludicrous assertion (and one that I’ve heard from other sources) is that journalists, unlike bloggers, have an interest in being accurate because their papers could be sued if they libel someone. I can’t imagine that Shaw is unaware of this, but bloggers can be sued for libel too. If you libel someone (say, by declaring that a co-worker is having an affair with a goat) you don’t get off the hook because you published it at BilltheJediMasterBlog instead of the New York Times. You’d better get yourself a good lawyer. To quote from the movie Spiderman…actually, I’m not going to quote from the movie Spiderman. It takes away from the gravitas of what I’m talking about, and besides, it’s a stupid line. Anyway, my point is that if bloggers have the same rights as journalists, they have the same responsibilities as well.

So, what’s the difference between bloggers and journalists? Nothing. So, what’s the difference between the average citizen and journalists? Nothing. Under the First Amendment, we all look the same. With one big, BIG difference. Journalists are fortunate enough to get paid to write. Most bloggers, and most private citizens, aren’t so lucky. The economic threat bloggers pose to journalists perhaps explains much of the vitriol, but isn’t a compelling reason to strip away our constitutional rights.

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4 Responses to “What First Amendment?”

  1. StudioGlyphic Says:

    What if journalists decided to set up an American Journalism Association and require that you go to 3 years of Journalism school and get accreditation before becoming a member? What if this body had the right to sanction members? Would you allow different rights to be conferred to these accredited journalists? Would Fox News cease to exist as we know it?

  2. Drizztdj Says:

    Bye bye hot news anchor chicks 🙁

  3. TenMile Says:

    I liked it. Thanks.

  4. 89tj Says:

    Wonderful post Gene. I laughed at the Spiderman no-quote, although how such a classic movie could spoil the gravitas of anything I am not sure 🙂

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