Who gets to be a 'journalist'?

An important test case on the legitimacy of internet journalism is unfolding, as SCOTUSblog, which has been denied credentials to the Supreme Court press gallery, is going to make its case for an appeal in public on May 23rd, in the Capitol Visitors’ Center. Hannah Hess of The Hill reports:

On May 23, SCOTUSblog comes to Capitol Hill to make its case for the congressional press credentials it says are key to its coverage of Supreme Court nominations and hearings related to the court’s budget. (snip)

…at stake, though, are the congressional credentials of veteran reporter Lyle Denniston, who has been a journalist of the law for more than 66 years. All but 10 of those years have been spent covering the highest court in the land. Denniston has covered one-quarter of all of the Supreme Court justices, and he has reported on the entire careers on the bench of 10 of the justices.

Denniston is SCOTUSblog’s full-time reporter at the court and was issued a daily gallery credential through the blog in 2013, after a pursuit that spanned many years and required many modifications to the popular site to meet strict guidelines governing journalists’ access to the Capitol.

The Standing Committee of Correspondents for the Daily Press, an elected panel of five journalists that denied SCOTUSblog’s application for credentials in April, is giving SCOTUSblog the chance to appeal its decision during a public meeting on May 23 at 10:30 a.m. in the Capitol Visitor Center.

While appeals to the press galleries’ credentialing decisions occur occasionally, the process is not formal and it rarely plays out in public. The journalists’ decision to reject SCOTUSblog — a site that’s won a Peabody Award and journalism accolades from the National Press Club — has reverberated throughout the industry.

Internet journalism could hardly have a better test case than Lyle Denniston and SCOTUSblog. When important decisions are handed down by the Supreme Court, SCOTUSblog is THE place journalists go to for immediate high quality comment. Without question, it is one of the premiere sources of news and comment on the Court.

There may be no immediate – or even eventual – response to the appeal:

In order to reconsider the decision, one of the five journalists on the committee (in addition to Hughes, it includes reporters from Stephens Media Group, the Washington Post, Bloomberg and CQ Roll Call) would have to make a motion to reconsider. There is no timeline for when a subsequent decision might be made.

This is not the only assault on internet journalism.Under the guise of “protecting” journalists, a bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein threatens to define who isn’t a legitimate journalist, giving the federal government in effect the power to license journalists.  Nick Bernabe of the Activist Post:

After fending off numerous attacks on the freedom of the internet last year, activists and independent journalists alike are now facing another hurdle that flies in the face of freedom of the press, the “Journalist Shield Law“. 

Although the bill is being sold by the Obama administration and establishment politicians in both parties as a positive step in protecting free speech, unfortunately the name of this bill is highly deceiving. Remembering just how unpatriotic the Patriot Act was, this new law, although deceivingly named, is likely to crush freedom of speech of any journalist not on a corporate payroll. According to the AP, this is how the bill defines who a real journalist is:

The bill’s protections would apply to a “covered journalist,” defined as an employee, independent contractor or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information. The individual would have to have been employed for one year within the last 20 or three months within the last five years.

It would apply to student journalists or someone with a considerable amount of freelance work in the last five years. A federal judge also would have the discretion to declare an individual a “covered journalist” who would be granted the privileges of the law.

Essentially, if you don’t work for the likes of the dying mainstream media, the government can (and will) subpoena any journalist to force them to reveal their sources or face prosecution. Apparently, as described by one of the nation’s biggest hypocrites, the First Amendment only applies to some people and the government should get to decide who those people are.

Hat tip: Barbara Ledeen