Jim covered Congress and The White House during the George W. Bush administration for The Washington Times, and worked as a reporter, editorial writer and columnist for newspapers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California. He has appeared on the Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, and many local and national talk radio shows to talk politics and policy.
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It’s sometimes dangerous to take a snippet of a politician’s Sunday talk show bloviations and extrapolate them into a ruling philosophy. I don’t think that’s the case with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and his comments on Fox News Sunday this week. It’s clear that he really means what he said about First Amendment protections for
subjects of the federal government free citizens of the United States.
While talking about a potential media shield law for “journalists,” Durbin said this [emphasis mine]:
What is a journalist today in 2013? We know it’s someone that works for Fox or AP, but does it include a blogger? Does it include someone who is tweeting? Are these people journalists and entitled to constitutional protection? We need to ask 21st century questions about a provision that was written over 200 years ago.
As a former “credentialed journalist” and now a mere “blogger,” I watched that quote live on Sunday and was shocked by the statement — as should everyone who has a computer keyboard. The First Amendment states this [emphasis mine]:
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.
Note that the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights explicitly protects the “freedom of speech,” with a secondary nod to “the press.” The First Amendment does not define what a “free press” means, because it doesn’t have to do so beyond the standard definition — the people publishing their coverage of the government.
In other words, “the press” is just one avenue in which the people can express their right to free speech. There is no reason to imagine what our Founders thought about “a provision that was written over 200 years ago.” It is crystal clear: They meant, chiefly, to protect the right of the people to report upon and express their news and opinion about the government. To make it easy for Durbin to understand, today’s “bloggers” are the pamphleteers of “over 200 years ago.”
There has never been an “official journalism guild” that enjoys specified protection under the Constitution, nor should there ever be one. The First Amendment right of a “free press” is merely a form of the people’s right to free speech. Dick Durbin can no more regulate my right to say he’s a tyrant-in-waiting through a bullhorn on my front porch than he can if I decide to say it on this blog. Nor does he have the right to say information leaked to James Rosen of Fox News is less-protected by the Constitution if it’s leaked to me.
Durbin’s brand of creeping tyranny is one reason this ink-stained journalist opposes any type of “journalist shield law.” Get the government in the business of regulating “the press” — for its own “protection” — and it will soon define what “the press” is. Down that road lies the short trip to negating the free speech rights of all those whom the government will define as “non-journalists,” such as bloggers and “tweeters.”
It should go without saying that the way the mainstream media performs these days, the only real examination of our federal government comes largely from bloggers — the modern-day pamphleteers Dick Durbin thinks are perhaps unworthy of First Amendment rights.
Don’t expect the MSM to fight for our rights. We’ll have to light the candle of First Amendment vigilance on our own.