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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Power trip

Regular readers know I've been arguing against a shield law for journalists for years, for many reasons, chief among them that the press can't be a very effective watchdog of the government if the government is allowed to define who the legitimate press is. James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal fills out that argument a little by putting it in historical context

Uh-oh, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, best known for likening American servicemen to Nazis, is looking to limit your First Amendment rights, if not ours. "Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech," he writes. So far so good. "But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive."

That goes against America's entire constitutional tradition. In Lovell v. Griffin (1938), Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court: "The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press in its connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion."

The First Amendment defines individual rights of every American, so "the presss" is all of us. Any proposed law not based on that fact is too dangerous to even consider. I would say it amazes me to see journalists rooting for something so against their own interests, but then again I also saw insurance companies working for their own destruction by supporting Obamacare. Power is so seductive that we want to be near those who possess it, sometimes getting so close we can't see how dangerous to us that power is.