Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"Journalist Privilege" Harms Free Speech

This New York Post editorial sums up nicely why the media has lost our trust. In short, it points to Woodward and Bernstein as harming the country beyond measure by inspiring generations of young journalists to make it their mission to take down (or at the very least to challenge) The Man.

In fact, you could use All the President's Men to teach a course in journalistic ethics, using it as an example of what NOT to do - using anonymous sources without corroboration, revealing high level, sensitive information without considering their consequences, and making a mission out of taking down a politician. I'm not excusing Nixon, but his bad acts cannot justify theirs.

Now, journalists want to legally protect this type of bad behavior by creating a "journalist-source" privilege that would protect them from revealing such communications in a legal proceeding. They sanctimoniously note that they "have a duty to tell the public everything they learn, which is The Truth", while omitting or downplaying information that may not comport with their pre-established world view. (Case in point, the reporting on the US Economy.) The problem is that doing so would necessitate defining the word "journalist", and doing so in such a way that creates a de facto "official, licensed journalist." That would give the industry a larger chokehold, giving them an edge over bloggers, startups, and other ordinary citizens who want to get the word out. And that, as any corporation-phobic hippy will surely tell you, is a threat to a robust free and diverse press.

The First Amendment makes EVERY American citizen a journalist by birthright. The Internet makes that even more of a reality, with easy access to the ability to publish world wide. But we also have responsibilities as citizens, one of which is to cooperate with criminal investigations and to not harm our nation in time of war.

Journalists should remember that they are human beings first, then Americans, and THEN journalists. If their reporting of key facts assists the enemy in an armed conflict, they have an obligation to refrain from publishing those facts. If they are privy to information about a criminal affair, the "Public Right to Know" should not somehow supersede the right of the criminal justice system at a public trial to also know those important facts. If their reporting aids international terrorists by undermining the war against them, and by legitimizing suicide bombers on school busses as "militants" or "freedom fighters", then they have lost their humanity.

This is not to say that they necessarily should be silenced. But they should be condemned by all Americans, and by all people who think saving lives and promoting freedom is worth more than their job.

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