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.
United States Constitution, Amendment No. 1
The continued devaluing of the words written in the U.S. Constitution is back in the news this week, though sadly, I'm not sure I'd classify the story as "grabbing headlines." This time, it's not the Second or Fourth Amendments the peoples' representatives are attempting to roll back, but the First Amendment that has become too politically uncomfortable to be tolerated in Washington. Of course, I'm talking about the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 and specifically Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Amendment redefining and limiting the definition of a "journalist."
That puts rights of free speech and of a press squarely on the chopping block, the next
victims of a government that resents our Constitution for being the check against their power that it was written to be. And, according to Sen. Charles Schumer, the Bill's author, the measure has the votes to clear the U.S. Senate.
In the interest of objectivity, let's take a step back at this point shall we?
Ask any elementary school student what's their take away from the Bill of Rights or what it means to live in a free America and you'll probably hear "freedom of speech." Isn't that generally what comes to all of our minds when quantifying what was so revolutionary about the American Revolution? Isn't the right of all of us to express our thoughts openly and voice our concerns without fear of government reprisal universally agreeable?
Political alignment aside, is there anybody that honestly thinks this country would be better off by limiting the scope of our free press? Oh right, 60 percent of the U.S. Senate thinks we would. So why is it so important that the definition of a reporter not be tinkered with? Well for starters, there's that bit about Congress making NO LAWS abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. And really, that should be enough, but with American confidence in the established media at all time lows, I would argue a broad definition of journalism is more important now than ever.
For example, I am exactly the type of citizen journalist that Feinstein's Amendment is targeting. That means a majority of the Senate thinks the very words that you're reading right now are not protected speech. Despite my contributions to this blog, a radio program and a grass roots magazine, I am apparently not enough of a journalist. If I break a huge story with legitimate sources and everything, I wouldn't have the power to protect their anonymity or myself from prosecution. And it's not just me. Citizen journalists acting in defiance of their government were the primary voices of the Arab Spring uprisings. More recently and in our own back yard, Dan Bidondi rose to the forefront of this discussion with his coverage of Rhode Island State Senator Josh Miller (whose "Contact" section has been disabled). And then of course there's Thomas Paine, America's first guerilla journalist. Paine wasn't working for any media outlet when he wrote and anonymously published Common Sense in January of 1776. Just as with Twitter and modern blogs, Paine spoke directly to the average person in the medium of his day and what he said altered the course of history.
George Washington was so inspired by the pamphlet that he ordered his officers to read it aloud. Today, Senators Schumer, Feinstein and company would label him an enemy of the state.