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INSIDE THE FIRST AMENDMENT: Journalism’s new world – literally

July 6, 2013

By Gene Policinski

Gene Policinski

Gene Policinski

WASHINGTON — Glenn Greenwald is a writer for the British newspaper The Guardian. He lives most of the time in Brazil. And he is a central figure in the sensational disclosures of covert surveillance programs conducted by the U.S. that have touched nations around the planet.
Welcome to the new global world – quite literally – of journalism that is challenging both the notions and definitions of a free press and who is a journalist.

The news media have a direct, obvious stake in how the issues are resolved. But now close behind are government officials roiled over what they see as questionable motives of Greenwald and other writers involved in the disclosure of classified government information about the National Security Agency programs.

And then there are First Amendment advocates and government advocates of a proposed national “shield law” protecting journalists and sources, who face a thorny problem of deciding in upcoming months who is covered by that law and who is not.

A little perspective: Acerbic media critic A.J. Liebling essentially was correct for his time when he wrote more than 60 years ago that “freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

For many years, the matter of “who is a journalist?” largely was settled along his observation. In practice, if not statute, the free press was seen as a print or broadcast news operation or as a publishing organization. “Journalism” was what those entities did, and those employed by them were “journalists.”

There were some notable achievements – and exceptions – under that system. CBS News documentaries such as 1960’s “Harvest of Shame,” exposing to the nation the deplorable conditions endured by migrant workers, is an example. The press of course had a pivotal role in helping to expose scandal and cover-ups ranging from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate.

And there were those practitioners like I.F. Stone, self-identified as both an independent investigative reporter and a political activist. In the spirit of colonial era “pamphleteers” and of later writers called muckrakers, I.F.Stone’s Weekly, which reached its circulation peak in the 1960s, was investigative reporting tinged proudly with advocacy, challenging the notion that good journalists were simply nonpartisan and objective.

Stone once wrote that a journalist’s duty was “to write the truth, to defend the weak against the strong, to fight for justice, to bring healing perspectives to bear on the terrible hates and fears of mankind in the hope of someday bringing about a world in which men will enjoy the differences of the human garden, instead of killing each other over them.” Read the rest of the story at the Pittsburgh Morning Sun.

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