October 19, 2005 12:00 PM PDT

Senators: Bloggers may not be true journalists

WASHINGTON--Politicians indicated on Wednesday that a proposed law offering journalists special privileges might not be extended to Web loggers.

"The relative anonymity afforded to bloggers, coupled with a lack of accountability, as they are not your typical brick-and-mortar reporters who answer to an editor or publisher, also has the risk of creating a certain irresponsibility when it comes to accurately reporting information," Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said in a statement prepared for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on reporters' privilege legislation.

The hearing came as politicians are weighing the Free Flow of Information Act. The current wording of the measure, proposed in identical form in the U.S. House of Representatives, offers protection of confidential sources for anyone who "publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical in print or electronic word." The District of Columbia and every state except Wyoming already have some form of protection on their books.

Wednesday's hearing largely centered on broader tensions that remain between the Justice Department, which opposes the measure on the grounds that it would inhibit its investigative powers, and representatives from the news media, who contended that protection of confidential sources is essential for doing their work. New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in an Alexandria, Va., jail this summer because she refused to give up the name of a confidential source, participated on a panel clamoring for federal action.

"I'm here because I hope you will agree that an uncoerced, uncoercable press, though at times irritating, is vital to the perpetuation of the freedom and democracy we so often take for granted," she said.

Only a fraction of the questioning from senators hinged on whom should be covered by shield laws.

Largely echoing remarks he made during the first hearing on the topic, Cornyn voiced hesitance over whether the proposed shield law should apply to the "Internet blogger who has a cell phone with a camera, and maybe a laptop computer, and can publish with equal ease as a journalist."

Cornell University law professor Steven Clymer, who spoke on a panel that expressed reservations about the bill, told Cornyn that he thought the current wording of the bill would cover bloggers. Clymer indicated that he viewed this as a "dangerously broad" move that would undermine the idea of granting privileges at all.

Skepticism about treating bloggers as professional journalists is not new. Sen. Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican who is the primary sponsor of the shield law bill, told a journalism conference last week that bloggers should "probably not" be considered real journalists. (In the realm of election law, however, lawmakers have called for blanket exemptions for Internet publishers.)

It's clear that as lawmakers pursue the measure, debate over the definition of "journalist" will weigh heavily on the process.

Cornyn on Wednesday called for "serious discussion of what constitutes the term 'reporter.'" Lack of agreement on that definition has stalled federal efforts at shield law legislation for years, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, in a statement.

"With bloggers now participating fully in the 24-hour news cycle," he said, "we might face similar challenges in defining terms today."

22 comments

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Could This Be Said About Thomas Paine?
"'The relative anonymity afforded to bloggers, coupled with a lack of accountability, as they are not your typical brick-and-mortar reporters who answer to an editor or publisher, also has the risk of creating a certain irresponsibility when it comes to accurately reporting information,' Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican".

i'll bet the brit's would have said the same thing about that troublemaker, Thomas Paine!

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Accountability and beholden to the politicians
Clearly, bloggers will not be accountable. That is good.

Today, the press is wholely controlled and accountable to the
politicians which their owners and managers support and will
never report honestly on any matter until it is "safe" to do so.

My experience is that reports never report accurately, when they
report at all. Usually, at both the local and national levels, they
echo press releases of those they agree with, and attack or limit
the voice of those not in power.

I can think of nothing more typical of this corrupt government
than to pass the law they propose.
Posted by lawrencewinkler (56 comments )
Link Flag
Benjamin Frankin published social criticism anonymously as well
Remember Poor Richard? Reminds me of the Daily Show. What makes them accountable?
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Could This Be Said About Thomas Paine?
"'The relative anonymity afforded to bloggers, coupled with a lack of accountability, as they are not your typical brick-and-mortar reporters who answer to an editor or publisher, also has the risk of creating a certain irresponsibility when it comes to accurately reporting information,' Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican".

i'll bet the brit's would have said the same thing about that troublemaker, Thomas Paine!

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Accountability and beholden to the politicians
Clearly, bloggers will not be accountable. That is good.

Today, the press is wholely controlled and accountable to the
politicians which their owners and managers support and will
never report honestly on any matter until it is "safe" to do so.

My experience is that reports never report accurately, when they
report at all. Usually, at both the local and national levels, they
echo press releases of those they agree with, and attack or limit
the voice of those not in power.

I can think of nothing more typical of this corrupt government
than to pass the law they propose.
Posted by lawrencewinkler (56 comments )
Link Flag
Benjamin Frankin published social criticism anonymously as well
Remember Poor Richard? Reminds me of the Daily Show. What makes them accountable?
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
Law name says it all
It seems that the best way to determine what a law is set to
unleash against the American people is to look at its name, in
this case "Free Flow of Information Act", and then realize the
law's result will be the opposite. The Patriot Act is another
example of this.

This law is designed to hinder bloggers unless they've been
"blessed" by the handful of media giants. This is not about the
free flow of information, this is about being able to shut down
any flow as the government and/or corporations see fit, all
under the banner of "Freedom".
Posted by m.meister (278 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Law name says it all
It seems that the best way to determine what a law is set to
unleash against the American people is to look at its name, in
this case "Free Flow of Information Act", and then realize the
law's result will be the opposite. The Patriot Act is another
example of this.

This law is designed to hinder bloggers unless they've been
"blessed" by the handful of media giants. This is not about the
free flow of information, this is about being able to shut down
any flow as the government and/or corporations see fit, all
under the banner of "Freedom".
Posted by m.meister (278 comments )
Reply Link Flag
These Senators Must be Fired!
So when do they repeal the First Amendment? These people in
congress are a total disgrace and need to be fired!
Posted by (174 comments )
Reply Link Flag
These Senators Must be Fired!
So when do they repeal the First Amendment? These people in
congress are a total disgrace and need to be fired!
Posted by (174 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They have a point
Bloggers shouldn't be considered journalists. They don't have to be held accountable for what they say, simple as that.

They can say whatever they like and it's up to the reader to decide whether or not to trust them. A journalist, on the other hand, has the responsibilty to report the facts and credit their sources.

It's pretty logical to me. I don't see what all the hubbub is about.
Posted by Bob_Barker (167 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fox News?
>They can say whatever they like and it's up to the reader
>to decide whether or not to trust them. A journalist, on the
>other hand, has the responsibilty to report the facts and
>credit their sources.

What's the "hubbub" about? This: you as a blogger can be sued
into oblivion if you don't have protection. Maybe you're rich,
and have access to get yourself onto Lou Dobbs Tonight, but
most of us don't. So we use the soapbox called the Internet.

And when has Fox News actually had "journalists"? Is William
Safire a "journalist"? How about all the pundits who spew
opinion on all the cable "news" channels? In your world it's okay
for them to make stuff up, but bloggers are not to be trusted.
You'd better change your first name to Adolph, it'll fit better with
your attitude.
Posted by (174 comments )
Link Flag
They have a point
Bloggers shouldn't be considered journalists. They don't have to be held accountable for what they say, simple as that.

They can say whatever they like and it's up to the reader to decide whether or not to trust them. A journalist, on the other hand, has the responsibilty to report the facts and credit their sources.

It's pretty logical to me. I don't see what all the hubbub is about.
Posted by Bob_Barker (167 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fox News?
>They can say whatever they like and it's up to the reader
>to decide whether or not to trust them. A journalist, on the
>other hand, has the responsibilty to report the facts and
>credit their sources.

What's the "hubbub" about? This: you as a blogger can be sued
into oblivion if you don't have protection. Maybe you're rich,
and have access to get yourself onto Lou Dobbs Tonight, but
most of us don't. So we use the soapbox called the Internet.

And when has Fox News actually had "journalists"? Is William
Safire a "journalist"? How about all the pundits who spew
opinion on all the cable "news" channels? In your world it's okay
for them to make stuff up, but bloggers are not to be trusted.
You'd better change your first name to Adolph, it'll fit better with
your attitude.
Posted by (174 comments )
Link Flag
'some animals are more equal', appearently.
Granting special rights to 'journalists' is nonsense. Every US citizen should be afforded the same rights, regardless if 'Time Warner' or 'CNET' is on their paycheck. Its not the government's job to decide who is a 'journalist' and who isnt.

In general, journalists - or anyone else - should NOT be given special protection to keep 'confidential' sources private. Doing so only encourages lazy journalists to publish whatever they want - be it idle speculation or flat out libel - under the excuse that it was a 'confidential source'. Did you know that Joe down the street is a child molester? Its true, but dont ask me to back it up because its a confidential source. Get it?

The ever present threat that a court might decide to require the disclosure of a source will keep journalists from thinking they can propgandize anything they want, lie about any topic, or slander whoever they consider a political opponent with impunity. Much is said about keeping government 'in check'. Well, the same needs to go for the media. The media needs to be accountable to the people as well, and take responsibility for what they publish. If a random guy off the street cant slander someone without recourse, a newspaper shouldnt be able to, either.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well, according to our "Founding Fathers"...
The "press" was pretty-much considered to be ANYBODY that reported information to the "public", ...period.

And, as to "responsibility", the "...free interchange of information" IS the "check" which provides "balance", in a "...free society".

Furthermore, to our "Founding-Fathers", "free-speech" was considered to be THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT element for ANY government composed of "...The People".

If something isnt true, ...FREE-DISCUSSION of the facts, will expose it. If it isnt pleasant, ...too bad, dealing with such things is what responsibility is about. If it isnt popular, ...then it may be even MORE important for people to hear it.

But, perhaps you are one of those... "free-speech is fine", as long as it is rigidly-controlled by the responsible-people, in-power, ...types.

It just doesnt seem to be very, ...AMERICAN, to me.
Posted by Gayle-Edwards (30 comments )
Link Flag
'some animals are more equal', appearently.
Granting special rights to 'journalists' is nonsense. Every US citizen should be afforded the same rights, regardless if 'Time Warner' or 'CNET' is on their paycheck. Its not the government's job to decide who is a 'journalist' and who isnt.

In general, journalists - or anyone else - should NOT be given special protection to keep 'confidential' sources private. Doing so only encourages lazy journalists to publish whatever they want - be it idle speculation or flat out libel - under the excuse that it was a 'confidential source'. Did you know that Joe down the street is a child molester? Its true, but dont ask me to back it up because its a confidential source. Get it?

The ever present threat that a court might decide to require the disclosure of a source will keep journalists from thinking they can propgandize anything they want, lie about any topic, or slander whoever they consider a political opponent with impunity. Much is said about keeping government 'in check'. Well, the same needs to go for the media. The media needs to be accountable to the people as well, and take responsibility for what they publish. If a random guy off the street cant slander someone without recourse, a newspaper shouldnt be able to, either.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well, according to our "Founding Fathers"...
The "press" was pretty-much considered to be ANYBODY that reported information to the "public", ...period.

And, as to "responsibility", the "...free interchange of information" IS the "check" which provides "balance", in a "...free society".

Furthermore, to our "Founding-Fathers", "free-speech" was considered to be THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT element for ANY government composed of "...The People".

If something isnt true, ...FREE-DISCUSSION of the facts, will expose it. If it isnt pleasant, ...too bad, dealing with such things is what responsibility is about. If it isnt popular, ...then it may be even MORE important for people to hear it.

But, perhaps you are one of those... "free-speech is fine", as long as it is rigidly-controlled by the responsible-people, in-power, ...types.

It just doesnt seem to be very, ...AMERICAN, to me.
Posted by Gayle-Edwards (30 comments )
Link Flag
Similar issue in DE decided in favor of blogger
The Delaware Supreme Court decided a case recently where a bloggers identity (not the identity of a source) was protected in a libel case. Similar idea to what we are discussing and the Delaware Supremes set the bar pretty high.

See <a href="http://www.delawareintercorp.com/2005/10/delaware-supremes-set-bar-high-for.htm">http://www.delawareintercorp.com/2005/10/delaware-supremes-set-bar-high-for.htm</a> for an overview and links to the decision.

Personally, I think the proposed law is counterproductive. All of us as citizens may be held accountable and the press includes bloggers.
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Similar issue in DE decided in favor of blogger
The Delaware Supreme Court decided a case recently where a bloggers identity (not the identity of a source) was protected in a libel case. Similar idea to what we are discussing and the Delaware Supremes set the bar pretty high.

See <a href="http://www.delawareintercorp.com/2005/10/delaware-supremes-set-bar-high-for.htm">http://www.delawareintercorp.com/2005/10/delaware-supremes-set-bar-high-for.htm</a> for an overview and links to the decision.

Personally, I think the proposed law is counterproductive. All of us as citizens may be held accountable and the press includes bloggers.
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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