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My Thoughts on a Journalist's Privilege,

with talk of Plame and blogs and more, are in this morning's New York Times, squeezed into 840 words.

Volokh the Crazed Egalitarian:

The Daily Ablution quotes and critiques a column in The Independent (London) that criticizes various things, including bloggers. Referring to my New York Times article yesterday, the Independent column says:

The blurring between the expertise and experience of the professional and the enthusiasm of the amateur has become part of the culture. . . . The acme of amateur achievement is the weblog -- thoughts, opinions and news items broadcast by an individual and with a potential audience of millions. . . .

More and more Americans, it is now being said, will gather news and views from their favourite blogger, no matter how mad, ill-informed and right-wing, rather than from a newspaper or the news on television. . . .

It was unsurprising to read in The New York Times this week an article by a man with a successful weblog in which he argued that we are all journalists now, that privilege under the law should apply to the humblest blogger as it does to someone working for the national media.

The approach has a sort of crazed egalitarianism to it, but it also suggests that more than just knowledge flows from professionals and their institutions in the age of the Pro-Am. The checks and balances and disciplines that keep intolerance in check may also go. If that is what the new amateurism brings, you can start the revolution without me.

Me, a crazed egalitarian! Cool. But is it really that crazy to think that people who aren't "professional" journalists might actually be one of "[t]he checks and balances" that help keep professionals themselves -- and professionals' own occasional zones of intolerance, whether towards guns or towards President Bush or for that matter towards amateurs -- in check?

See the Ablution post for more, plus a link to the Independent article itself.

Freedom of the press = Freedom to publish.--

I finally got around to reading Eugene's NY Times op-ed and the odd response to it by Terence Blacker in the Independent (see Eugene's post on this).

I am not an expert on the First Amendment (as Eugene is). But I found the Independent's argument unpersuasive and questionable in a way that suggests why people need to look beyond mainstream sources such as the Independent to figure out the merits and scope of any First Amendment prvilege.

Terence Blacker in the Independent:

It was unsurprising to read in The New York Times this week an article by a man with a successful weblog in which he argued that we are all journalists now, that privilege under the law should apply to the humblest blogger as it does to someone working for the national media.

What some people seem to forget is that "the press" is only a metaphor for journalism. By giving freedom of the press as well as freedom of speech, the probable "intent" of the framers of the First Amendment and their probable "public meaning" was to recognize the freedom to publish without prior restraint and with broad (though not absolute) protection against later suit or punishment. If I'm right, then the "press" phrase of the First Amendment doesn't give more rights to journalists than to any other profession or sort of people who publish. It provides protection for whoever uses a publishing press, not a protection for a profession, like journalism. (To the extent that any states deviate from this basic First Amendment approach by privileging journalists only, they are acting unwisely in my opinion and contrary to the idea of the First Amendment.)

If we can now publish online for marginal costs that approach zero, then we all share in that freedom of the press (i.e., the freedom to publish). It is the technology that leads to egalitarianism, not the first amendment theory, which in my opinion has always protected publishers, at least non-obscene ones.

Scott Burgess also has some comments.

Take Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest public figure of the 20th century. A Winston Churchill, writing extensively in his bathtub (as he often did), should receive no more protection from the First Amendment than political or academic bloggers writing in their pajamas or in their bathrooms, as recent critics of blogs have pejoratively asserted.

Of course, Eugene and I are not Churchills, but then neither is Mr. Blacker.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Freedom of the press = Freedom to publish.--
  2. Volokh the Crazed Egalitarian:
  3. My Thoughts on a Journalist's Privilege,