Do Reporter Shield Laws Protect Political Animals?

Lindsey Graham stumbled into one of those perpetual arguments about the definition of journalism today, per National Journal‘s Brian Fung:

Whether bloggers count as journalists has mostly been a matter of esoterics for reporter types. But as Congress weighs a media shield law in response to the Associated Press/Justice Department subpoena scandal, the question is gaining an urgency that lawmakers are finding hard to ignore as they turn to writing the bill.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., took on the issue—and stumbled.

“Who is a journalist is a question we need to ask ourselves,” he said. “Is any blogger out there saying anything—do they deserve First Amendment protection? These are the issues of our times.”

The verbal slipup aside (of course bloggers are covered under the Bill of Rights!), Graham’s riffing on constitutional law exposes one of the age-old tensions between journalism as a product and journalism as an activity. What Graham really meant to ask was whether bloggers deserve the specific protections of the First Amendment that are granted to the press. And in fact, along with his colleague Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Graham has been an ardent proponent of a media shield law in recent weeks. But as the line between blogger and journalist has blurred, a far more relevant challenge is figuring out whether those protections apply to the behavior of finding and passing on (sometimes secret) information, or if they apply only to people with little plastic ID badges to prove their affiliation.

Beats me. I’m pretty unlikely to be digging into, discovering or disseminating sensitive national security information, so it may not matter to PA. But then there’s the deeper question Fung asks:

In some ways, what this episode really suggests is that it might be time to retire the word “blogger” as an artifact of the aughts.

Technically, my job title is “Contributing Editor,” but then I do write a fair amount for something we call a “blog.” Do we need a different name for the game and the players?

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.