Freedom of the press may be one of the founding principles of the United States, but Senator Dianne Feinstein is on a mission to limit these powers. The fourth-term California Democrat has proposed an amendment to narrow the definition of journalism and give privileges to only those she deems “real reporters.”
Currently, most states have shield laws designed to protect journalists, but no such laws exist on a federal level. Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved national shield laws, but Feinstein was unhappy with how broadly journalist could be interpreted and wrote up an amendment to address her personal concerns.
Feinstein discusses her amendment in a Senate meeting.
Feinstein’s suggestion is blatantly unconstitutional. The First Amendment is clear: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” yet here is a member of Congress trying to do precisely that. By applying a strict definition to who can be considered a journalist, Feinstein is not only discrediting, but also destructing independent and citizen journalism.
Shield laws allow reporters to protect their sources and prevent them from having to testify against them in court. These laws are safeguards that ensure critical news is disseminated and the populace remains informed without government interference.
Feinstein seems chiefly concerned with affiliates of Wikileaks and other such agencies calling themselves journalists. She has been one of the most vocal Senators in calling for prosecuting Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden for espionage. Evidently, publicizing some of the most critical information of our time that other more “reputable” agencies wouldn’t touch does not count as an act of journalism, particularly when the leaked info makes Feinstein look bad.
Indeed, despite alleging that she wants to protect only “legitimate journalists,” Feinstein has a history of showing no respect for legitimate journalists. On a trip to China while serving as San Francisco’s mayor, Feinstein told Evelyn Hsu, an American reporter, that she preferred Chinese reporters, explaining, “They just write down what we say.”
Feinstein’s limited definition of a journalist is “someone who is an employee, agent, or independent contractor for a media entity.” In an act of compromise, she did agree to take out the word “salaried” from her description of a journalist, though she called it an “unnecessary worry.” From my vantage point, restricting “real” reporting to jobs paid for by corporate entities is hardly an illegitimate concern.
How many people even trust mainstream media anymore? Print publishing is slowly dying, while cable news has devolved into corporate-sponsored propaganda disguised as “infotainment.” For crying out loud, MSNBC reporter Chuck Todd just told us that it isn’t his job to expose political lies. If Feinstein’s mission is to limit freedoms of the press to entities in the pocket of the powerful and wealthy, the real goal must be to further obscure the truth… while holding those who actually report the truth responsible for daring to expose it.
In her explanation for redefining journalists, Feinstein asks, “Should this privilege apply to anyone? To a 17-year-old who drops out of high school, buys a website for $5, and starts a blog?” Her comment reeks of classism and elitism, as if an average young citizen couldn’t offer valuable information to the public.
The fact is we need citizen journalists, independent media outlets and bloggers like those here at Care2.com more than ever. We need reporters who challenge authority, conduct actual investigations, cover all stories and spread the truth. Just because what these journalists reveal might be a little too “real” for Feinstein doesn’t make their work any less “real.”
Sign this petition to tell Dianne Feinstein to stop attempting to dismantle the First Amendment. A free press is essential to maintaining a healthy democracy free of corruption.
Photo Credit: David Lee