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Quote of the Day - You get fifteen democrats in a room, and you get twenty opinions. - Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Wrongly Contends Bloggers Aren't Journalists

Senator John Cornyn has taken the position in response to the pending Free Flow of Information Act that bloggers are not journalists.  He claims, "The relative anonymity afforded to bloggers, coupled with a lack of accountability, as they are not your typical brick-and-mortar reporters who answer to an editor or publisher, also has the risk of creating a certain irresponsibility when it comes to accurately reporting information," in his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, repeating comments made earlier.

While MIPTC rarely takes an affirmative position on an issue, Senator Cornyn is for the most part wrong.  He may be the co-sponsor of this bill with Senator Patrick Leahy, which entitles him to state what he thinks his bill means, but his proposal misses the mark.  Certainly there is some merit in limiting the application of this law to anonymous bloggers, just as there would be to limiting the application to an anonymous journalist.  That limitation, however, is the extent of the validity of his comment.

The notion that bloggers don't deserve protection under a shield law because bloggers don't report to editors - and thus risk inaccurate information - shows that the Senator hasn't read the news lately.  Even the Grey Lady makes mistakes on important, national issues, even with the benefit of high-profile, long-in-the-tooth editors.  In fact, the evidence is quite the opposite.  Bloggers collectively edit each other, a more powerful tool than a single editor.

Searches on Technorati report that this issue hasn't significantly made its way into the blogosphere.  Perhaps it's time we give some thought to this issue.  Compare our relative lack of involvement on this point to the issue surrounding the Indian Institute of Planning and Management's firing of blogger Sabinis because of a critical post on the IIPM.  Then, according to MSNBC (scroll down to second post, but first read the post on Cornyn's take on pork funding), "Sabnis told fellow blogger Amit Varma, 'You know, we bloggers are always writing about principles, about freedom of speech, about standing up for what we believe in, for the truth. It's very easy to write all that. But I'm being tested on those principles in real life. If I don't stand by those principles now, I will lose all respect for myself.' " Some 900 posts later, the IIPM has lived to regret taking on the blogging community.

William Safire has it right, as noted in the second C|Net link above, "I don't think journalism should profess to be a profession.  I think the lonely pamphleteer has the same rights as The New York Times."

I think that's what founding fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine would have responded with to Senator Cornyn.  What's your take?

Posted by J. Craig Williams on 10/24/2005 at 10:25 Comments (1)



Comments by Jonathan B. Wilson from United States on Wednesday, October 26, 2005 at 19:44

Are Bloggers Journaists?
NY Times reporter Judith Miller spends 85 days in jail on contempt charges for refusing to reveal a source and now Congress decides that we need a federal shield law for reporters.
Easy enough, but would that shield law cover bloggers?
Heavens forfend! Bloggers work from home in their pajamas <> while journalists have blown-dry hair and get invited to Sunday morning talk shows.
Unfortunately, statements recently uttered by Senators Cornyn and Lugar to the effect that bloggers are not "real journalists" are only more current examples of technology outpacing legislators' understanding of how the world really works.
J. Craig Williams correctly notes the historical irony in what Cornyn and Lugar have said. Much of what passed for "journalism" in the earliest days of our republic was simply the 18th century version of blogging.
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton all published pamphlets, often financed with their own funds, making anonymous comments on political issues. If the First Amendment had any historical context it was the context of 18th century pamphleteering: anonymous, chaotic, sometimes factually inaccurate and yet vital to communicating (sometimes unpopular) political opinion to the masses.


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