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.
What Durbin wants is what Durbin already knows and — back home in Chicago and at the national level in Washington — already has: sycophants, toadies, bum-smoochers and throne-sniffers. And what he doesn’t want is anything that upsets the Jake Lingle-run applecart that keeps NBC and its satellites firmly in the orbit of the Chicago politicians who pay their salaries. Durbin may be using the words “journalist” and “journalism,” but what he means is Establishment Journalism, which oddly enough is populated by the same kinds of people who currently populate government. They’ve all gone to the same schools and today live in the same neighborhoods, and they easily move back and forth between “journalism” and government service, as if they were the same thing. Which to them, they are.
And which does not affect their coverage at all. Not even a little bit.
I do not think “citizen journalism” is necessarily the miracle cure some consider it to be. I spent a year conceiving and executing the website Big Journalism with, and for, Breitbart, and my greatest difficulty there was trying to make him see that not everything about traditional journalism was a leftist plot. (I totally failed.) Today there remain some websites on the right that I simply do not either believe or trust, and I expect you can figure out which ones those are: they are marked by amateurish writing, shoddy reporting, and misapprehension of facts and circumstances that more experienced hands would instantly grasp. Further, there is something called “news judgment” — what is and what is not a story, which varies from editor to editor but which is vital to any institution, from the New York Times down to the lowliest blog, for it to have any credibility and influence.
But it doesn’t matter whether “citizen journalism” is better or worse than traditional journalism. All that matters is that it exists, and thus provides an alternative to what we have. Even with its flaws in style and methodology, blogging and tweeting have still brought us to a better place, information-wise, than we were during the “Progressive” era, when men like Walter Lippmann began the process of blending journalism with government to create one gigantic “expert” racket — for our own good. Here’s Lippman in a notorious passage from his book Public Opinion (1921):
It is argued that the problem of the press is confused because the critics and the apologists expect the press to realize this fiction, expect it to make up for all that was not foreseen in the theory of democracy, and that the readers expect this miracle to be performed at no cost or trouble to themselves. The newspapers are regarded by democrats as a panacea for their own defects, whereas analysis of the nature of news and of the economic basis of journalism seems to show that the newspapers necessarily and inevitably reflect, and therefore, in greater or lesser measure, intensify, the defective organization of public opinion.
My conclusion is that public opinions must be organized for the press if they are to be sound, not by the press as is the case today. This organization I conceive to be in the first instance the task of a political science that has won its proper place as formulator, in advance of real decision, instead of apologist, critic, or reporter after the decision has been made. I try to indicate that the perplexities of government and industry are conspiring to give political science this enormous opportunity to enrich itself and to serve the public. And, of course, I hope that these pages will help a few people to realize that opportunity more vividly, and therefore to pursue it more consciously.
Organizing opinions for the press is precisely what apparatchiks like Durbin are up to. To them, everything is a patronage game. Snuggled up against David Axelrod, Durbin thinks he’s living in high clover — protected from the consequences of his own corruption and stupidity by the likes of MSNBC’s very own administration mouthpiece/media Svengali.
They say that every man is a hero to his dog, but that no man is a hero to his valet. For decades, Democrat politicians have endeavored to reconcile those two opposites, by turning their valets in the media into their dogs. How well they’ve succeeded is in print and on the air for all to see and hear. How it galls them that just as they’ve finally seduced the Legacy Media, along comes this grubby upstart, pissing on their shoes and then refusing to shine them.