BY ED DRISCOLL OCTOBER 26, 2005
Matt Drudge once said, “Roger Ailes told me early on, you don’t need a license to report. You need a license to do hair”. Naturally, as Jonah Goldberg notes, most in Big Media would like that to change:
Many putative First Amendment voluptuaries defend their position against the most absurd hypotheticals. My favorite example (as some readers may recall) comes from the columnist Michael Kinsley. A “very distinguished New York Times writer” once told Kinsley that “if the Times ballet critic, heading home after assessing the day’s offering of plies and glissades, happens to witness a murder on her way to the Times Square subway, she has a First Amendment right and obligation to refuse to testify about what she saw.” Why? Because she’s a member of the priestly caste.Other than the obvious problems – that the First Amendment is not a blanket protection to conceal crimes, that nowhere in case law or in the Constitution itself has such a right been established – there’s a sticky public policy problem. Who gets to be a journalist? That question is why federal shield laws are the camel’s nose under the tent of journalism licenses. If everybody can be a journalist simply by pecking away at a keyboard, then tens of millions of bloggers, newsletter writers and coupon-clipper weekly editors are journalists. If that’s the case, then such a sweeping right is unenforceable and dangerous. If, on the other hand, only some people get to be called “journalists,” then we’ve got the makings of a trade guild here.