Unclear on the concept, 1st amendment edition

We revere free speech in the United States, rightly considering it one of the essential liberties of a free people. In fact, we consider it so important that our ancestors made the protection of free speech a part of the Bill of Rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

(Emphasis added)

So, I have to ask, what part of “no law … abridging” does Michigan State Senator Bruce Patterson not understand?

A Michigan lawmaker wants to license reporters to ensure they’re credible and vet them for “good moral character.”

Senator Bruce Patterson is introducing legislation that will regulate reporters much like the state does with hairdressers, auto mechanics and plumbers. Patterson, who also practices constitutional law, says that the general public is being overwhelmed by an increasing number of media outlets–traditional, online and citizen generated–and an even greater amount misinformation.

“Legitimate media sources are critically important to our government,” he said.

He told FoxNews.com that some reporters covering state politics don’t know what they’re talking about and they’re working for publications he’s never heard of, so he wants to install a process that’ll help him and the general public figure out which reporters to trust.

“We have to be able to get good information,” he said. “We have to be able to rely on the source and to understand the credentials of the source.”

There’s a face-palm moment in almost every paragraph. Does it not occur to the esteemed senator that giving government, over which the press exercises a watchdog function, the power to decide which is a legitimate source of information and which isn’t might have a bit of a chilling effect on that same free press? If you say or write the wrong thing, do you lose your license? And how has that “licensed journalism” thing worked out in, say, Cuba, Senator?

Patterson’s bill, for which he can find no co-sponsors (It seems some pols still have a sense of shame), would impose the following requirements:

According to the bill, reporters must provide the licensing board proof of:

  • “Good moral character” and demonstrate they have industry “ethics standards acceptable to the board.”
  • Possession of a degree in journalism or other degree substantially equivalent.
  • Not less than 3 years experience as a reporter or any other relevant background information.
  • Awards or recognition related to being a reporter.
  • Three or more writing samples.

The article goes on to say registration with the state would be voluntary and that no one would be barred from acting as a journalist in Michigan without a license, but, come on. Inevitably, some schmuck legislator who’s mad at the press would want to make registration a requirement “for the public good.” And the very act of registration almost certainly will create a legitimate/illegitimate distinction in the mind of the public that in turn will put pressure on journalists (staff or independent)  to submit to licensing in order to maintain credibility.

Even if this doesn’t violate the letter of the 1st Amendment, it sure as the Devil goes against its spirit. And this guy practices constitutional law? Between him and con-law professor Barack Obama, maybe we should consider licensing constitutional lawyers, instead.

Really, Senator, I think the good people of Michigan are smart enough to decide what is a legitimate news source and what isn’t without the state’s help.

(via Big Journalism)

Advertisements

2 Responses to Unclear on the concept, 1st amendment edition

  1. Porkchop says:

    There’s no abridging going on here. The “Press Pass” has been around for well over 100 years. You’re familiar with Michael Yon and his ongoing issues with not being an accredited journalist with an established new organization.

    What’s novel here is that you’d have a state law that wasn’t identifying credentialed reporters: it would be giving them a state-approved quality seal. THAT’S bizarre, but it isn’t unconstitutional.

  2. Porkchop says:

    Even better: you know who would qualify under his rules?

    Stephen Colbert and pretty much everybody at The Daily Show. They’ve both gotten Emmys and Peabody Awards.

%d bloggers like this: