On whatever it is I do

Steven Greenhut of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity:

Watching some recent debates about who is a “real journalist” and who isn’t has been a source of amusement for me given that being a real journalist has not always been that great of an honor. When I told Mom I was getting a job in journalism, she was miffed that her son would waste a decent education on such a low-rent pursuit.

That question of journalistic authenticity, though, has been in the news as Congress has debated a “shield law” designed to protect journalists from government prosecution – an outgrowth of the Obama administration’s legal pursuit of people who leak and publish sensitive government information. (Without leaks, there would be little real journalism, by the way. And to government officials, everything is sensitive.)

Sen. Dick Durbin, that noted journalistic expert from Illinois, wrote that “we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive.”

An outraged Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a law professor, rightly called Durbin a “constitutional ignoramus if he thinks that when the Framers talked about freedom of the press, they were talking about freedom for the press as an institution.” Reynolds was writing in the New York Post, but only Durbin would know if that makes Reynolds a real journalist or a poseur.

Reynolds’ point is a good one: It’s scary to think of the government as the final arbiter of what separates a real journalist from a fake one. It’s typical of government to want to put everything in a box, which makes it so much easier to control, regulate and subsidize (just another way to control it).  One of the big problems with the herd journalism often practiced in White House press corps or among those journalists “embedded” with the military, is that they curry favor with government officials lest they lose their access to information. …

Government already holds the cards. It is so big and powerful, so secretive and arrogant that we ought not to hobble efforts by reporters and bloggers to expose its dealings. Look at how the government has reacted to Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, who provided that NSA spying information to media sources.

The New Media World, with its plethora of nontraditional reporting voices, has so changed the journalism landscape that even denizens of the major national media understand that any shield law should protect the practice of journalism, not a caste of journalists who work for organizations approved by the federal government.

The New York Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan noted recently noted how news organizations sometimes dismiss serious writers and reporters as “bloggers,” as if to diminish the work they do. She quoted Times’ columnist Frank Rich, who recently savaged NBC anchor David Gregory for suggesting that one reporter ought to be charged with a crime for his work reporting on the information that Snowden provided.

Wrote Rich: “Is David Gregory a journalist? … [N]ame one piece of news he has broken, one beat he has covered with distinction, and any memorable interviews he’s conducted that were not with John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Dick Durbin or Chuck Schumer.”

Ouch. Bravo to Rich. Journalism is about covering news, not echoing the talking points of government officials. How dare anyone suggest that the ridiculous Gregory is a real journalist, whereas the dogged Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian writer at issue here, is not. …

A shield law is a good idea, but only if it recognizes that real journalism is an act, not a credential.

On a more amusing note, elsewhere at Reason (my favorite libertarian media, by the way) is a series of memes comparing HBO’s “The Newsroom” to the movie “Anchorman,” with five reasons to denigrate the former:

1. New media should be celebrated, not treated with contempt.

The show vilifies new media. The anchor, Will McAvoy, is extremely reluctant to adapt to the times and is bitterly reverential about the good old days when you could only get three versions of the news.

2. Journalists are not the “intellectual elite”.

Will and his team think that he is god’s greatest gift to mankind and that his viewpoint is beyond reproach, and he therefore doesn’t offer contending views.

3. Good journalists have to work hard and be committed to reporting.

The News Night team doesn’t see a need to go out and get stories. The reporters rely primarily on luck and pre-existing knowledge.

4. There is always bias in media, you just need to be upfront about it.

Will claims to be a Republican but his story choices indicate the opposite. He repeatedly claims that the tea party is taking over the world and that this is the most pressing story on the docket.

5. Journalists do make mistakes, and they should take responsibility for them.

Will actually does apologize, but on behalf of the journalism industry as a whole (of which he believes he has risen above).

Reason passes on this exchange from an early episode …

Will McAvoy: What does winning look like to you?

Mackenzie MacHale: Reclaiming the fourth estate. Reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession. A nightly newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation. Civility, respect and a return to what’s important; the death of bitchiness; the death of gossip and voyeurism; speaking truth to stupid. No demographic sweet spot; a place where we can all come together.

Will McAvoy: Okay. Here are some things done on American soil in the name of Christianity. The Ku Klux Klan burned down black churches, raped women, murdered civil rights workers, murdered children and terrorized communities for over a century. The Neo Nazis all acted and continue to act in the name of white Christian supremacy. The Army of God fatally attacks abortion clinics and doctors across the country. The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord targets local police and federal agents. The federal building in Oklahoma City. The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and the successful assassinations of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, John Lennon, and Abraham Lincoln, all perpetrated by Christians. Miss Greer, we weren’t attacked by Muslims, we were attacked by sociopaths, and I for one would join you in protesting a community center for the criminally insane, but no one is suggesting building one.

… which reminds me why I don’t have HBO. (That crap was written by Aaron Sorkin, who previously lathered crap upon TV viewers in “The West Wing.”) It took other comments to blow apart Sorkin’s writing:

  • Was…was Lee Harvey Oswald a Christian? I thought he was a communist and actually lived in the Soviet Union for a time? Did Sorkin really write something that stupid?
  • Yes, he was a communist who had defected to the USSR and was pissed about Kennedy’s treatment of Castro. And yeah, Sorkin along with nearly every other liberal of his ilk is really that stupid. Rewriting the history of Oswald making him a rightwing Christian is part of the liberal prayer book.

  • And Timothy McVeigh was a lapsed Catholic who said his religion was science.

  • And if I am not mistaken Eric Rudolph is an atheist. I don’t think his objection to abortion or desire to blow shit up had anything to do with religion.

  • Sooo…we were not attacked by Muslims, but we have been under ceaseless Christian attack? I’m so confused.

  • And [Sorkin’s] disdain for others and their intelligence is pervasive. He thinks of people who disagree with him as stupid yokels easily distracted by mindless drivel – the voting public in American President, the anti-internet premise of Social Network, Bartlet’s opponent in West Wing, and of course Sarah Palin in the imagined encounter of Bartlet and Obama. He just thinks people are idiots and so he frames a lot of his dialogue as either recitations of trivia (which does appeal to me, I admit) or lengthy self righteous diatribes against the mouth breathers.

 So who is the biggest jerk — “Will McAvoy” (that is, Jeff Daniels), or he who writes Daniels’ words?

One thought on “On whatever it is I do

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