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Journalism: You Know It When You See It

August 23, 2013

By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program

Right now, Dianne Feinstein and other members of the U.S. Senate are trying to define the word press – the same press that is mentioned in the first line of the First Amendment to the Constitution. No matter how well intentioned their plan may be, it could backfire badly.

When news first broke back in May that the Justice Department had seized the phone records of Associated Pressreporters and tracked the movements ofFox News’ James Rosen, it was a great opportunity for Congress to pass the stronger protections for freedom of the press that liberty requires.

The public was outraged and big name Senators from both parties, including New York’s Chuck Schumer and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, proposed new laws to protect journalists from prosecution.

That bipartisan push for a media shield law has now hit a snag.

And that snag is Senators like California’s Dianne Feinstein who don’t think bloggers and tweeters should have the same First Amendment protections as reporters who work for big corporate outlets like Fox or The New York Times.

In its current form, the Senate’s media shield law requires the Justice Department to give any journalists a 45 days heads up when they want to snoop on them.

A journalist, according to the pending bill, is anyone who has a “primary intent to investigate events and procure material.”

Sounds pretty simple, right? Not for Dianne Feinstein.

The California Senator told her colleagues earlier this month that she’s worried that the word “journalist” is so vague that the proposed media shield law could “…provide special privilege[s] to those who are not reporters at all.”

In Senator Feinstein’s opinion, “real reporters” have salaries. In other words, they have to work for “official” news agencies recognized by the Washington establishment.

Senator Feinstein wants to make sure that the Senate’s media shield law doesn’t save WikiLeaks from prosecution, but if Congress were to limit media shield protections only to “paid” journalists, that would leave any number of bloggers, tweeters, and independent citizen journalists open to prosecution by the federal government just because they don’t take home a paycheck.

That is just wrong.

Journalism is not profession or person, it’s an act. Anyone who comments on the news, anyone who cultivates sources, anyone who breaks a story about government corruption – that person is engaging in an act of journalism.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said about pornography that he “knew it when he saw it.” The same goes for journalism. You know it when you see it. It sounds vague, but it’s true. Read more in TruthOut.

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