Times are hard for the mainstream media. They are suddenly waking up to the fact that they are not such an exclusive and desirable club after all and that people do not need them that much anymore. In response they are trying to desperately reserve the label of ‘journalist’ only to those who belong to their club. It is amusing to see how some courtier journalists like David Gregory are forced to interview people like Glenn Greenwald and yet try to avoid at all costs calling him a journalist, instead referring to him as a blogger, columnist, activist, lawyer, and the like.
This is not merely an issue of turf and prestige. The freedom of the press clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution provides some real protections for journalists, so the idea of who belongs to ‘the press’ is not a trivial one. But what constitutes ‘the press’ and what extra rights and privileges that confers that are above and beyond those covered by the guarantee of freedom of speech is something that is up for debate.
For example, is a journalist defined by what he/she does or by the organization he/she belongs to? Jason Stverak argues that it should be defined by what the person does and that as a result bloggers and citizen journalists should also be considered members of the press. He cites in support of his case the opinion of Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes in the 1938 case of Lovell v. City of Griffin, GA involving tracts being distributed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He said:
The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press in its connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion. [My italics-MS]
Jeff Cohen has an excellent article where he says, “I know several journalism professors who view Greenwald as one of the world’s best journalists. He’s known as accurate, thorough, well-documented and ethical.” So why are alleged journalists like David Gregory and Andrew Ross Sorkin talking about having Greenwald arrested? Cohen says that the US media sees itself almost as an arm of the government, and points to all the subtle and not-so-subtle signs of this, such as using the pronoun ‘we’ when talking about actions taken by the US government. But they are finding themselves increasingly isolated because of their pro-government stand.
When a huge swath of the country is on the side of the guy-on-the-run and not the government, it’s much easier to see that there’s nothing “objective” or “neutral” about journalists who so closely identify with the spy agencies or Justice Department or White House.
The standard exclusion of dissenting views – panels often span from hawk (“he’s a traitor who needs to be jailed”) to dove (“he may have been well-intentioned but he needs to be jailed”) – offers yet another reason why young people, more libertarian in their views, have turned away from these outlets. Virtually no one speaks for them.
[David] Broder was a reporter, columnist and TV talking head—yet no one questioned whether Broder was a genuine journalist. That’s because, unlike Greenwald, the reporting and opinions of a David Broder were militantly pro-establishment, pro-bipartisan consensus.
The reason Glenn Greenwald’s credentials as a journalist are being questioned by some mainstreamers is not that he blurs the line between journalist and advocate. It’s because of the anti-establishment content of his journalism and advocacy.
Xeni Jardin writes about how the New York Times repeatedly used Alexa O’Brien’s coverage of the Bradley Manning trial at Fort Meade (the Times did not even think it worthwhile to send a reporter to cover this major story) while referring to her as an activist and not a journalist. Jardin says that O’Brien finally got fed up and fired off a wonderfully scathing letter to the Times ordering them to correct their story. After detailing her background as a journalist, O’Brien’s letter ends as follows:
I find the term activist used here by Mr. Carr and Mr Somaiya– pejorative. So, you will accordingly correct your error immediately.
I am at Fort Meade. Where are you, New York Times?
You are reading my journalistic work, using my journalistic work, capitalizing off of my journalistic work, and linking to my journalistic work about the largest criminal investigation ever into a publisher and its source.
More importantly, you are not here.
The Times meekly complied, but only partially, by adding the term journalist to the activist description and not replacing it. Of course Gregory and Sorkin are as much activists as she is but because they are activists on behalf of the establishment, they do not see themselves as such.
The courtier journalist class seems to be gagging at the thought of calling anyone outside their limited circle journalists. The fact that Greenwald writes regularly for a major mainstream publication like the Guardian should be more than sufficient to say that he is a journalist.
But what about bloggers? As far as I know that has not yet been adjudicated. But it is only a matter of time before the Obama administration, in its harsh crackdown on whistleblowers, accuses a blogger or freelancer of espionage or some other crime involving reporting and that person invokes the First Amendment defense of a free press. For all I know, it may have already happened and is working its way through the lower courts.