It's no secret that I moderate comments. There are a lot of divisive issues floating around these days and this is my blog, not a debating society.
I tend to shelve comments that will only lead to a spiral of unresolvable differences: this is the Internet, soap-boxes are cheap, and shouting past one another isn't nearly as useful as shouting on one's own patch to willing listeners. It's a big country and a big Internet. There's room for everyone.
My observations on the Press did prompt a response that was interesting and a little sad-- But first, let's start with this thing called the Press, which the Bill of Rights tells us is supposed to be free of government meddling. What is it?
"The Press" is a common noun hiding a bunch of verbs: observing, collating, writing, editing, reporting, publishing. It is these acts that the first Amendment protects. Not reporters or editors or publishers, who are, like the President or the police, Just Some Guys. Just some guys who happen to be performing vital jobs.
So when a comment claiming, "Journalists have no special protection. If the crowd is told to disperse, they are part of the crowd. Citizens like everyone else. Same protections but no more," showed up, the complete lack of understanding of the underlying principles saddened me.
Let's take it a piece at a time:
"Journalists have no special protection." Dead wrong. Journalism is a specifically protected activity, called out by name in the first article of the Bill of Rights.
"If the crowd is told to disperse..." By whom, and under what circumstances? Police? They do not have blanket authority to tell any peaceably-assembled crowd to disperse (that pesky First Amendment again). The police are not your masters; they are public servants. But wait, there's another mistake:
"...they are part of the crowd." Nope. Wrong. Journalists are observing the crowd.* They're not participants in it and are often not even among the people assembled, but off to one side or behind police lines. Where, in recent weeks, they have been shoved, gassed, pepperballed, had cameras smashed, been detained, handcuffed and arrested. But not, interestingly enough, charged -- because the higher-up police officials, not to mention prosecutors and judges, know that journalism is not a crime.
"Citizens like everyone else." Yes, they are -- and so are protesters, police, judges, legislators and Presidents. Some of them, from time to time, engage in Constitutionally-protected activities, like practicing their religion, functioning as members of the free Press, peaceably assembling, keeping and bearing arms, speaking freely, enjoying security "in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," and so on.
"Same protections but no more." Yes, precisely -- spelled out right there in the highest law of the land.
Many journalists -- many people, including protesters, police, etc. -- are jerks, fools or just annoying. They often have opinions that strike others as ignorant or distasteful. Nevertheless, even they are protected from government force by the Bill of Rights, especially when engaging in those activities the Feds are supposed to steer clear of limiting. In my lifetime, I've seen the government get pushed back from many infringements and it has been a good thing.
The police are not the boss of me -- or of you. They're damn sure not the boss of the free Press.
* A clearer example: a war correspondent embedded with troops is nevertheless a reporter, not a soldier. He or she is not a combatant. A reporter among protesters remains a reporter.
BUILDING A 1:1 BALUN
5 months ago