Last Updated:November 25 @ 11:52 am

Government Should Not Define What A Reporter Is - Or Isn't

By Standard - Speaker (PA)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and a horde of members of Congress of both parties want to decide who is and who isn't a reporter. Feinstein says a "real" reporter is a "salaried agent of a media company."

She mentions the usual suspects - New York Times, ABC News. She dismisses part-time staff. She dismisses freelancers. She dismisses those who write, often without pay, for the hundreds of alternative publications, and often break news and investigative stories well ahead of the mainstream media. She dismisses anyone who, she says, "have no professional qualifications."

The reason she wants to define what a reporter is or isn't is because there's a proposed federal Media Shield Law that would protect reporters from revealing their sources. Forty states and the District of Columbia currently have shield laws. Feinstein wants to amend the federal bill to take away existing First Amendment protections from anyone not involved in - apparently - salaried establishment media.

There are people who have minimal qualifications to be a reporter. Many write nothing but screeds. Many have problems with basic language skills. Many have little familiarity with the Associated Press Stylebook. Many have an inability to ask probing questions of government officials; many merely transcribe what they're told, whether from the president, a council member, or a local reader who is the focus of a feature. Some of them are paid salaries and are agents of media companies, which Feinstein believes are acceptable requirements.

There are also those who frequently allow "deep background" and "off-the-record" comments. Many news media won't allow sources to go "off the record." If the information isn't available to the general public, it shouldn't be available only to reporters. Access to news sources is something reporters enjoy that the average reader doesn't, but there is a responsibility to the reader and viewer and listener not to hide information.

There are those who overuse the "veiled news source," which is a part of the Shield Law. A veiled news source could be someone whom the reporter identifies as, "Sources close to the governor state ..." Often, the reporter doesn't question a source's motives for why she or he wants to give anonymous information, or if it is merely a "trial balloon" to use the media to put out information. If the people agree, sources become identified; if the public disagrees with a proposal, no one traces the "leak" to politicians or their staffs.

On more than a few occasions, reporters - whether "salaried agents" of a media company, part-timers for that company or for any of thousands of alternative publications or electronic media, or freelancers - have filled in holes in their stories with false identities - "A 55-year-old housewife in Podunka, who asked not to be identified, says ... " Good reporters seldom use a veiled news source and then have to protect them should there be a court order to divulge the source of information.

On rare occasions, however, a reporter, in consultation with an editor, will allow a news source to be anonymous. Granting veiled news source status should not be given unless a source's information and identity puts her or him into significant personal jeopardy - and the information can be verified.

But, even if there are reporters who are lazy, who plagiarize, who abuse the veiled news source privilege, there are no enforceable ethics rules in journalism. Reporters aren't licensed - such as physicians, social workers, teachers, contractors and cosmetologists. Only an editor can discipline or terminate an employee.

Nevertheless, whenever the government says it wants to define what a reporter is or is not - and the public, outraged over something a reporter or news operation did or did not do demands licensing and enforceable codes of ethics - a huge red flag should be in everyone's face. Not one part of the First Amendment determines who or what a reporter is, or what is or is not news. The Founding Fathers didn't forget to include that; they deliberately didn't want to include that. They believed government shouldn't be making those decisions, and the news media, even the media that base their news upon lies and scandal, must be independent.

And, yet, government and the news media often wink at the intent of the Founding Fathers and cozy up together.

The only thing more outrageous than reporters and sources playing golf or tennis together is reporters schmoozing at political receptions, the women dressed like they were movie celebrities on the Red Carpet, the men in tuxedos. And the reason why they go to these receptions? They claim it's because they "get their information" there.

But, "socializing" isn't the only thing that violates the intent of the Founding Fathers. It probably isn't a good practice for Congress to appoint news correspondents to determine who is or is not qualified to receive press credentials - subject to the oversight of House and Senate leaders. Until recently, the establishment press of "salaried agents" refused even to acknowledge that members of the alternative press, even those who have won awards for investigative reporting, should be allowed the privileges that mainstream reporters are allowed.

It violates the First Amendment when police agencies and governments at all levels decide who can or can't cover its activities. Usually, the ones excluded are reporters who are not "agents" of an establishment media company.

Until recently, it violated the intent of the First Amendment when the Federal Communications Commission determined what percentage of each day's programming should be devoted to which category because of a law Congress created that decided electronic media, unlike print media, are required to meet the "public interest, convenience, and necessity."

Under Sen. Feinstein's belief of who and what a reporter is, Ben Franklin, who wrote hundreds of articles under the byline of Silence Do-Good, and was never paid for it, would not be considered to be a reporter.


In a 40-year professional career, Dr. Walter Brasch has been a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines, a multimedia writer-producer, and university professor. He writes a syndicated weekly social issues column and is the author of 18 books, most of them fusing history with contemporary social issues. His latest book is "Fracking Pennsylvania."

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  1. Mort_fComment by Mort_f
    August 27, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Of course the follow on would be that all reporters must be bona fide union members. Might I suggest that the SEIU would be appropriate. On second thought, most appropriate, for many are no better than janitors, or waiters dependent on the clients they serve for tips.

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  2. guardsmanComment by guardsman
    August 27, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

    OK Feinstein you say many have minimum qualifications to be a reporter. Answer to that you have no qualifications to being called Senator with comments and unfounded statements you made concerning gun control issues.

    Who will determine who the salaried established media are. Fox News has already been labled as not a news station.

    Merely being elected to congress does not make you qualified as a rep. or sen. The same should hold true for the Office of POTUS. we have seen a man no where close to being qualified

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    • RPComment by RP
      August 28, 2013 @ 3:48 am

      Was thinking almost the same exact thing myself. Thanks for saving me the time to get my thoughts together. This is just a way for the Dems to shut down descent against their agenda. They can’t do it with the FCC as yet, but this is just a piece meal strategy of having total control of the media. With no opposition from the media, they can go back after guns. With the population disarmed, they have total control over the whole country. Those that oppose are sent to concentration camps or executed.

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    • Scruffy-USN-RetiredComment by kerryp
      August 28, 2013 @ 4:22 am

      Sen. Dianne Feinstein it is call freedom of the press, to prevent wacko senator’s and president’s from stopping their lies and deceptions from being exposed as lies and deceptions to the people.
      The obama is very skilled at his art of deceptions and he doesn’t want some uncontrolled reporter throwing a wrench into his perfectly designed lie or deception.

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  3. prairelivingComment by praireliving
    August 27, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

    If having ‘no professional qualifications’ was applied to other positions, for example President of the United States, this country wouldn’t be in the mess that it is.

    If the ‘reporters’ of the mainstream media are considered ‘professionally qualified’ then the qualification standards are so low that it is laughable. Just because someone has a journalism degree doesn’t make them a fair and unbiased reporter. Not even close.

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  4. oleteabagComment by oleteabag
    August 27, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

    The LAST thing we need is this liberal IDIOT Feinstein–who has no qualifications and no BUSINESS being in Congress–deciding who is and is NOT a “reporter”.

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    • goodshotComment by goodshot
      August 29, 2013 @ 11:36 pm

      Thanks oleteabag and while you’re at it include Nancy(much botox) Pelosi and her buddy Harry (Can’t) Reed.

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  5. pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
    August 27, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    One might also argue that money can corrupt and therefore salaried reporters might be less credible since they are worried about collecting their paycheck.

    Look at the false information the establishment media has put out smearing conservatives only to be forced to retract it later. Nobody lost their job and I am sure any reprimand was mild or non-existent.

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  6. theophilousComment by theophilous
    August 27, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

    The first ammendment states, in its entirety;

    “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.”

    So Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or the press.

    Fascist Senator Feinstein seems to have a problem with understanding the simple concept of “you can’t do that.”

    She needs to be removed from office as quickly as humanly possible. If she cannot be convinced to resign, then she must be compelled to do so, or face the same fate as the Italian fascist dictator.

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    • oleteabagComment by oleteabag
      August 27, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

      Well said, theophilous!

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    • daveevad1Comment by daveevad1
      August 27, 2013 @ 8:56 pm

      Diane Feinstein (former mayor of the city that brought you Nancy Pelosi) has been forced upon the country by the Democratic Socialist machine – er, voters – of the People’s Republic of California.

      The mach – er, voters – will continue to do so despite any outside influence to the contrary.

      Our only hope is to revoke the statehood of California – which won’t happen, given the number of states controlled by the Democratic Socialist machine.

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  7. xjandinComment by xjandin
    August 27, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    This is clearly an attempt to silence the ‘alternative’ media. What happens when the definition excludes someone who writes a pro-liberty newsletter because they don’t have a ‘salary?’

    ALL OF THE FEDERALIST PAPERS were written by people who would be excluded by Feinstein as not being ‘professional’ journalists. Her position is the same as that of the King of England who would have (and did for some) executed them for voicing their opinions – which is why they were written anonymously.

    The 1st amendment was written to allow ordinary people to voice their criticisms of their government and has NOTHING to do with newspapers or journalists.

    EVERY American citizen has the right to start their own publication, regardless of technology, and use it to criticize the government and it has NOTHING to do with journalism.

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    • oleteabagComment by oleteabag
      August 27, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

      You are exactly right, xjandin. It is time people like Feinstein were exposed as the anti-freedom CREEPS they are.

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    • nielszooComment by nielszoo
      August 27, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

      What Comradette Senator Feinstein is missing is that the vast majority of the Progressive/Liberal/Democrat “new media” are not paid at all. They exist in mother’s basement and enroll in enough credits each semester to permit scamming student loan cash as they cannot hold a real job. Will she deny press cred’s to HuffPo’s unpaid vagrants? We would be in much better shape if we took away 99% of the power from Dingie Diane, Coo Coo Chucky and Nutjob Nancy… I’ll even throw in Looney Lindsey to boot.

      Enforce the Constitution, Period!

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    • xbethComment by xbeth
      August 27, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

      When the Constitution was written, “the press” was not a profession or some sort of writer’s guild – it was the state of the art for mechanical reproduction of the written word. It was a mechanical tool, which could be acquired and used by anyone with something to say.

      She might as well be certifying Speechwriters as vessels in whom “freedom of speech” should be vested.

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  8. bendoublecrossedComment by bendoublecrossed
    August 27, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

    Senator Dianne Feinstein is the one with problems with basic language skills. She does not understand the plain language of the 1st Amendment:

    In their latest assault on our “free speech and free press rights” Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Dick Durbin are attempting to define reporters and journalist as paid employees of the Main Stream Media.

    The obvious response to senator Durbin and senator Feinstein is that in our nation’s first 184 years, before the so called “press exemption”, we understood that every citizen is a reporter or a journalist!

    Amendment 1: “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 to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    State Representatives to the Constitutional Convention demanded a 1st Amendment to insure a central government did not trample freedoms found in their State Constitutions.

    Kentucky Bill of Rights
    Section 1

    Fourth: The right of freely communicating their thoughts and opinions.

    Sixth: The right of assembling together in a peaceable manner for their common good, and of applying to those invested with the power of government for redress of grievances or other proper purposes, by petition, address or remonstrance.

    Section 8

    Printing presses shall be free to every person who undertakes to examine the proceedings of the General Assembly or any branch of government, and no law shall ever be made to restrain the right thereof. Every person may freely and fully speak, write and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.

    Lovell v. City of Griffin SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES 303 U.S. 444 Argued February 4, 1938 Decided March 28, 1938
    The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion. What we have had recent occasion to say with respect to the vital importance of protecting this essential liberty from every sort of infringement need not be repeated.

    If we can agree that speech, press, assembly and petition are the tools of political campaigns then it is clear that Federal Campaign laws are abridgements of the rights of citizens and political parties, PACS and 501Cs.

    Please note what Senator Mitch McConnell said in his letter

    “Had the senate debate on the McCain Feingold bill advanced to the point of amendments, among the first I offered would have been one to delete section 431 (9) (B) (i). Whenever the opportunity presents itself in the future, I look forward to doing just that. I believe that it would be an enlightening discussion.

    Section 431(9)(B)(i) makes a distinction where there is no real difference: the media is extremely powerful by any measure, a “special interest” by any definition, and heavily engaged in the “issue advocacy” and “independent expenditure” realms of political persuasion that most editorial boards find so objectionable when anyone other than a media outlet engages in it. To illustrate the absurdity of this special exemption the media enjoys, I frequently cite as an example the fact that if the RNC bought NBC from GE the FEC would regulate the evening news and, under the McCain-Feingold “reform” bill, Tom Brokaw could not mention a candidate 60 days before and election. This is patently absurd”

    The so called ‘Press Exemption’ section 431 (9) (B) (i) exempts U.S. and foreign owned newspapers and cable networks from “Federal Election Laws” which restrict the speech and press rights of every U.S. citizen, political party and political organization!

    Did senator McConnell mean what he said?

    If liberals can propose legislation to further restrict our “speech and press rights” is it unreasonable to expect a champion of the “first amendment” like senator McConnell to introduce legislation to restore our speech and press rights?

    Will senator McConnell act on his beliefs? Will he introduce or cosponsor legislation to amend the “press exemption” to include every U.S. citizen and allow us to freely communicate our thoughts and opinions?

    I am encouraging citizens to call their Senators and Congressman and demand they add ‘citizens and citizen’s groups’ to the language of the press exemption. Politicians cannot afford to publically declare citizens should have inferior rights and including citizens and citizens groups eviscerates the Federal Election Campaign Act and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act without requiring repeal.

    In the interim conservative groups should consider incorporating as media periodicals to circumvent most unconstitutional campaign laws, rather than applying to the IRS for non-profit status to avoid a few.

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    • daveevad1Comment by daveevad1
      August 27, 2013 @ 9:00 pm

      “Constitution? Constitution? We don’ need no stinkin’ Constitution” – Comrade Barry Soetoro

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  9. arwenusaComment by arwenusa
    August 27, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

    Government shouldn’t do more than 90% of what it does. So what? Who’s going to stop them?

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  10. 440voltComment by 440volt
    August 27, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

    What is it going to take for the people of San Francisco and the state of Californicaatiion to retire this 13 term, 80 year old harpy? If not just for their own good, at least for the good of the country.

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    • daveevad1Comment by daveevad1
      August 27, 2013 @ 9:02 pm

      You say this about the voters of California who just reinstated Governor Moonbeam?

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  11. poppoComment by poppo
    August 27, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

    This from a ‘representative of the people’ who doesn’t have a clue or a single qualification except for being corrupt.

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  12. bowler1hatComment by bowler1hat
    August 27, 2013 @ 11:35 pm

    Senator Feinstein says that she dismisses those who write, often without pay, for the hundreds of alternative publications, and often break news and investigative stories well ahead of the mainstream media. She dismisses anyone who, she says, “have no professional qualifications.”

    We The People of the United States dismiss those who write laws, spend moneys that are forty years from being collected from our grandchildren thanks to professionals who have no qualifications for handling their own checkbooks, obey the laws written by previous and current Congresses and have no concept of the First, Second or Fourth Amendment and many others that they claim to have read, studied, memorized and are striking the match ready to burn it. The professionals that Congress is most aligned with is prostitution, but many of them are proud of it and we already know who they are!proud

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