That would be First Amendment freedom. And, to listen to Dick Durbin talk about it, the senator from Illinois — you know, the one who didn’t become president five minutes after he won his seat — the First Amendment applies to real journalists, not you unwashed lot, with your grubby blogs and your cell-phone cameras and your Twitter accounts. Sen. Dick means real journalists — you know, like David Gregory. The kind who can get away with breaking the law because they’re Journalists and you’re not — which is apparently why they need shield laws and you don’t. Folks employed by big-time news organizations (although most of them aren’t as big-time as they once were). You know, the kinds of reporters and editors the Founders had in mind when they wrote the words:
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.
Except, of course, they didn’t.
In the freewheeling media environment of the mid/late 18th century, just about anything went. True, there were newspapers aplenty, frankly partisan affairs that advocated instead of reported. But there was also the contemporary equivalent of modern bloggers — rabble-rousers like Tom Paine, the British-born troublemaker and pamphleteer who provided much of the intellectual fodder for the American Revolution in works such as Common Sense. Like bloggers today, Paine was a pain in the ass, forever complaining about how underpaid and overworked he was, and mad at the world that his genius was not better appreciated and remunerated:
Often tactless, Paine provoked considerable controversy. He was invariably hard-pressed for money and had to depend upon the generosity of his American friends and the occasional reward from the French envoy in America. When the War came to an end, his financial position was so precarious that he had to campaign to obtain recompense from the government. Congress eventually rewarded him $3.000. Pennsylvania granted him £500 in cash, while New York proved more generous and gave him a confiscated Loyalist farm at New Rochelle.
After American independence had been won, Paine played no part in the establishment of the new republic. Instead, he busied himself trying to invent a smokeless candle and devising an iron bridge.
And when that didn’t pan out, Paine hied himself off to France, where he threw himself into another revolution, in which he almost lost his head. He died, penniless, on his farm at New Rochelle.
Would Durbin consider Paine a journalist? Of course not; he’d consider him an enemy of the state. Here’s how the guy Rush calls Little Dick defines journalists:
Here is the bottom line – the media shield law, which I am prepared to support … still leaves an unanswered question, which I have raised many times: 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?
When you hear a hack pol like Durbin bruit the issue of who’s “entitled” to constitutional protection, you know the fix is in. For today’s media happily occupies one side of the bed of the Democrat-Media Complex (in the late Andrew Breitbart’s famous formulation), a cozy racket in which each side protects and nourishes and pleasures the other. As the Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds, wrote the other day:
Sen. Dick Durbin thinks it’s time for Congress to decide who’s a real reporter. In the Chicago Sun-Times last week, he wrote: “Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech. But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive.”
How do you decide who is a journalist? Essentially, he says, it’s someone who gets a paycheck from a media organization: “A journalist gathers information for a media outlet that disseminates the information through a broadly defined ‘medium’ — including newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, magazine, news Web site, television, radio or motion picture — for public use. This broad definition covers every form of legitimate journalism.”
Does it really? Every form?
The ability to publish inexpensively, and to reach potentially millions of people in seconds, has made it possible for people who’d never be able to — or even want to — be hired by the institutional press to nonetheless publish and influence the world, much like 18th century pamphleteers.