Category Archives: Freedom of the press

No Publius in the Alabama Senate Press Room

Del MarshDel Marsh, R-Anniston, president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate, has asked the Alabama Press Association to assist Senate staff “in determining a proper definition of what constitutes a journalist meriting access to the press room.” Senator Marsh only wants real “journalists” in the press rooms. The others—“partisan political blogs and shady fly-by-night websites offering purposely skewed and inaccurate interpretations of hard news events”—can “sit in the public gallery and blog about what they see” from there.

One wonders, if the access in the gallery is commensurate with the access in the press room, what difference does it make? On the other hand, if the access is not commensurate, then why is Senator Marsh seeking to relegate some of his citizens to second class access based on a distinction even he cannot articulate?

Luckily for him—and the Alabama Press Association—the U.S. Supreme Court has already made it simple to determine who possesses the freedom of the press.

Everyone.

“The press” refers not to a group of people, but to the action of publication itself. Thus, “freedom of the press” protects not a privileged group of actors, but the action of conveying information and ideas, wherever that action is undertaken, by whatever means and whatever person. The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized as much:

The press, in its historic connotation, comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.

Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 452 (1938) (protecting Jehovah’s Witness’s right to distribute religious leaflets door-to-door without a license).

The administration of a constitutional newsman’s privilege would present practical and conceptual difficulties of a high order. Sooner or later, it would be necessary to define those categories of newsmen who qualified for the privilege, a questionable procedure in light of the traditional doctrine that liberty of the press is the right of the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper or a mimeograph just as much as of the large metropolitan publisher who utilizes the latest photocomposition methods. Freedom of the press is a “fundamental personal right“… The informative function asserted by representatives of the organized press … is also performed by lecturers, political pollsters, novelists, academic researchers, and dramatists.

Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 703-05 (1972) (emphasis added, internal citations removed) (like every other citizen, a reporter can be called to answer before grand jury).

[T]he purpose of the Constitution was not to erect the press into a privileged institution, but to protect all persons in their right to print what they will as well as to utter it. “[T]he liberty of the press is no greater and no less than the liberty of every subject of the Queen,” and, in the United States, it is no greater than the liberty of every citizen of the Republic.

Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U.S. 331, 364 (1946) (emphasis added, internal citations removed) (Frankfurter, J., concurring).

Is it too idealistic to think that something called a “press room” should be open to all the people who possess the “freedom of the press,” which is to say everyone?

Perhaps.

Surely, the general public cannot demand admission to White House press briefings. And Marsh would say he is not proposing to restrict the act of publishing, but rather the act of entering the press room. The former is a constitutional right; the latter (Marsh would argue) is a special privilege.

The distinction is not without meaning, as Doug Mataconis has comprehensively explained. Just as federal and state governments can grant special privileges for religious beliefs without running afoul of the First Amendment, so too can they grant extra-Constitutional privileges, such as testimonial shield laws, to only certain members of the media.

When expanding protection, legislatures are entitled to draw lines that might not be permissible in the case of abridgements.

*     *     *

Because press shield legislation would extend immunities to the press beyond what the First Amendment has been held to require, it probably does not violate the Constitution to confine those immunities to a subset of entities entitled to protection under the Press Clause.

Michael W. McConnell, Reconsidering Citizens United as a Press Clause Case, 123 Yale L. J. 266 (Nov. 2013).

Marsh might seek to characterize his proposal, not as an infringement upon freedom of the press, but a special perk akin to a media shield law for favored groups in their exercise of that right. That might be constitutional.

But it is also bad policy.

Its practical unworkability is evidenced by other efforts to establish criteria for the receipt of such special perks. Such criteria inevitably focus on the regularity and primacy of the journalistic activity to that individual or entity and whether that activity constitutes a business endeavor for financial gain or livelihood.

As former Circuit Judge for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School Michael W. McConnell has observed, those standards risk excluding publications like The National Review, The Weekly Standard, Slate and Newsweek, which are sometimes kept afloat by donors rather than profits. They risk excluding the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian, and the American Bar Association, which engage in journalism as secondary to other endeavors. And they risk excluding authors, documentary filmmakers, and pamphleteers, who do not follow any predetermined cycle to their publishing.

Senator Marsh would do well to remember, also, what Doug Mataconis observed:

[I]t was a bunch of bloggers who discovered that the memos that CBS News relied upon to support its story about George W. Bush supposedly ducking out early on his National Guard commitments were forgeries. That report, you’ll recall, came out at the height of the 2004 re-election campaign and threatened to have a major impact on the election. Instead [thanks to those bloggers], it ended up having a major impact on the careers of several CBS News employees, including a man who had been anchoring the CBS Evening News for more than 20 years. For reasons like that, it’s important that we make sure that shield laws don’t end up being something that only cover members of what essentially amounts to a protected cartel while bloggers and free-lancers are left out.

Under Senator Marsh’s approach, “real” journalists like Dan Rather would no doubt gain admission to the Alabama legislature’s press rooms. What about the bloggers who uncovered the problems with Rather’s documents?

PubliusIt is not always clear, based on mainstream status, who is the partisan, shady, fly-by-night imposter “offering purposely skewed and inaccurate interpretations of hard news events” and who is engaged in real journalism. Senator Marsh should reconsider his efforts to impose press credentialing standards that Thomas Paine, Publius, and the Federal Farmer would be unable to satisfy.

 

 

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Lady Liberty image via The Montgomery Advertiser. Publius image from FeedBooks.com.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Net Neutrality: A Complex Issue With No Satisfactory Solutions

Yesterday, Chris Byrne had a write-up regarding President Obama’s “stated” support for Net Neutrality. “Stated” is in scare quotes because, as Chris noted, President Obama’s support for this ( much like his “support” for gay marriage) is a limp-wristed attempt to mollify his young, technologically literate base.

Of course, because it’s Obama and there’s a cottage industry dedicated to demonizing him, Ted Cruz had to come out with the stupidest political statement of the year (Non-Dollard/Kincannon Division).

With the mainstream attention these positions will now bring, and with an FCC decision on the issue due in 2015, the issue can no longer be ignored:

Net Neutrality is a major political issue, right now.

Chris Byrne correctly noted, that the lack of competitive options in local internet access is the primary factor leading us into the situation we’re in now. A deeper look into this shows… yeah, it shows we’re screwed either way.At the moment, there are no realistic answers that will satisfy consumers.

The explanation as to why is complex, to say the least.

Keep in mind that as I go through the issues surrounding net neutrality, I will be attempting to take common arguments, and technical background, and break them down into layman’s terms. Although readers of The Liberty Papers tend to skew more educated than most, I understand that not everyone is tech savvy enough to understand much about how the internet works beyond “I go to Google and email shows up!”. » Read more

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Quote of the Day: #Ferguson Edition

Here’s a great observation for Lucy Steigerwald writing from Rare:

Whether the shooting of Brown by Wilson was justified or not, it’s important to remember that there were good reasons people distrusted the Ferguson police’s narrative of events.

Police did everything wrong after Brown was killed. They left his body in the street, they refused to answer questions or identify the officer. They used military tech to answer the protests that resulted. They repeatedly teargassed crowds, arresting peaceful protesters and members of the media.

Officer Darren Wilson shouldn’t be punished for the impression that people — especially minorities — have of the police. If he doesn’t deserve prosecution, he shouldn’t be prosecuted. Whether he deserves harsh, little, or no punishment is still up for debate.

Read the whole thing. The entire article is worth quoting but I thought I would just wet your beak.

Deny/Disrupt/Degrade/Deceive

Last week at United Liberty, Alice Salles posted a very disturbing article about the NSA and GCHQ intercepting and storing webcam images from supposedly private web chats. Between 3 to 11 percent of these images contain sexually explicit content. What would the NSA and GCHQ possibly want with these images apart from a few individual agents getting their jollies?

According to secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden, it seems that these images are to be used to embarrass any would-be critics of the NSA, GCHQ, or anything else the federal government doesn’t want the citizens to get too uppity about. Glenn Greenwald explains:

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.

Greenwald is in no way being hyperbolic here. Some of this might sound like some kind of Alex Jones nonsense, but these conclusions are based on actual leaked documents he shared in the article itself (I highly recommend everyone read these). Here are two leaked Power Point slides that I found to be very revealing and disturbing:

effects

Pay special attention to the last bullet point on the second slide: “The 4 D’s: Deny / Disrupt / Degrade / Deceive.”

These are the tactics that are to be used against American critics of the federal government! The federal government is using the internet via social media to destroy lives and reputations (for national security?). As outrageous and Orwellian as this all is, as I learned reading Jesse Walker’s latest book, these tactics are not new. J. Edgar Hoover had a program called COINTELPRO, and there was a similar CIA program during the Nixon administration dubbed “Operation CHAOS.” The only difference now is the technology to carry out these operations is vastly improved.

In the light of these blatant, strategic lies, how can we ever trust anything we are told by the federal government? It seems the “Innocence of Muslims” video deception Obama’s Ministry of Truth tried to sell us during the 2012 Benghazi attacks was only par for the course!

This revelation made possible by the hero and patriot Edward Snowden* should serve as a warning to us all any time the government accuses anyone of being a terrorist or a traitor to take such accusations with a great deal of skepticism.

*And yes, he is a hero and a patriot make no mistake about that.

Quote of the Day: Failed Attempt at Intimidation Edition

“If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these [Snowden] documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world – when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today – all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.”

Glenn Greenwald writing in response to his partner David Miranda’s 9 hour detention by UK authorities at Heathrow Airport.

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