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Dick Durbin Wants to Stop You From Being a Journalist

July 4, 2013

By Jim Naureckas

Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.), writing in the Chicago Sun-Times (“It’s Time to Say Who’s a Real Reporter,” 6/26/13), says it’s time to stop letting just anyone call themselves a journalist.

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.

By this he means, basically, that the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press probably don’t apply to you:
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.

Otherwise, Durbin suggests, we’ll be in the absurd position of giving First Amendment protection to just anyone:
Is each of Twitter’s 141 million users in the United States a journalist? How about the 164 million Facebook users? What about bloggers, people posting on Instagram, or users of online message boards like Reddit?

To avoid this nightmare scenario, Durbin offers a proposal for a statutory definition of “journalist”:
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 website, television, radio or motion picture–for public use. This broad definition covers every form of legitimate journalism.

This not a bad definition, actually–though it doesn’t do what Durbin wants it to do, that is, separate out “legitimate journalism” from what he sees as the illegitimate kind.

In Durbin’s formulation, a “journalist” is someone who 1) gathers information 2) for a media outlet that 3) disseminates the information through a broadly defined medium 4) for public use. I guess we can agree that journalists gather information (though they might also be expressing opinions about information, if they’re opinion journalists). It’s the next part that Durbin intends to separate the wheat from the chaff. Read the rest of the story at FAIR.

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