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Drudge hates new shield bill, but is defining 'journalist' really 'fascist'?

A media shield law approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee defines a “real reporter” deserving of extra protection. Bloggers, "citizen journalists," and others cry "foul!"

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But conservative bloggers, including some law professors, had a different reaction, suggesting that such a law would give the Department of Justice powerful discretion that could potentially be used to intimidate amateur reporters who are also working in the public interest.

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The boom in online news arguably has helped polarize the American political scene, but it has also given readers access to far more data and viewpoints than they had under the system of editors and reporters that make up the traditional American newsroom.

Moreover, largely because the First Amendment extends press freedoms to all Americans, the US has no special licensing requirements for journalists, as many other Western countries do, meaning that the shield law would be the country’s first attempt to create what critics call an “elite” tier for the institutional press.

“Journalism is an activity, not a profession,” wrote University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, who mans the popular InstaPundit blog.

Some senators agreed. “It strikes me that we are on dangerous territory if we are drawing distinctions that are treating some engaged in the process of reporting and journalism better than others,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, (R) of Texas. “Essentially as I understand this amendment, it protects what I would characterize as the ‘corporate media’…. But it leaves out citizen bloggers.”

The intent of the federal shield is to enshrine in law what, until the Obama administration, had been maintained mostly as a tradition – that reporters shouldn’t have to testify about how or through whom they received sensitive information with a demonstrable public interest.

Fighting back against leakers like Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange, who have used the Internet to instantly disseminate vast troves of classified data and documents to the global masses, the Obama administration has prosecuted both whistleblowers and reporters who have gained access to that kind of data with an unprecedented vigilance. The administration has also been caught tapping dozens of phone lines at the Associated Press, the nation’s preeminent wire service.

(Ironically, President Obama has said he supports a shield law that critics point out has been made more necessary by the actions of his administration.)

The bill says that a "covered journalist" is a person who gathers or writes news for "an entity or service that disseminates news and information."

The bill, however, does not offer an impenetrable shield.

Federal officials can still “compel disclosure” from a reporter who has information that could prevent a murder or child kidnapping, help stop acts of terrorism, or information that could cause severe harm to national security.

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