Another view on the jailing of a journalist

Don Wycliff, the public editor of The Chicago Tribune, offers the most significant contribution that I’ve read to date on the Judith Miller/Matt Cooper “press freedom” argument. I highly recommend reading it. Specifically, Wycliff disagrees with all the weeping and gnashing of teeth over this in journalistic circles, and I think he’s spot on in his reading of the bigger picture.

I think that even journalists bear that obligation of citizenship, and that if we don’t want to get caught up in situations like hers and Time magazine’s Matt Cooper’s, we need to become far more discriminating about when and to whom we promise anonymity.

More fundamentally, I think we need to become far more realistic about the 1st Amendment, quit talking about it as if it were some ultimate trump card that puts journalists above the law and beyond accountability, and recognize it for what it is: a constitutional tool that belongs to all the people for the protection of the right of all the people to be informed about the working of their government.

Most important, I think we need to rethink our current headlong rush to trade away the 1st Amendment in its fullness for the protection that a federal “shield law” would confer upon some tiny fraction of “the people” who call themselves journalists.

Exactly. The more the so-called professional élite rush to create a protected status for themselves, the farther away they’ll get from Constitutional protections afforded all of us. It will only hasten the downfall of the media status quo.

I’m involved in a discussion group that’s talking about the idea of professional standards for blogging. Here’s a part of one of my contributions:

I assume I have (First Amendment freedom) simply because I can publish. If I lie and deceive, I have enough faith in people to collectively spit me out, and this is the core difference between the blogosphere and the mainstream press. Walter Lippmann and his cronies believed people were stupid and needed to be informed by a professional class, the pedestals of which are crumbling now under the weight of such arrogance. We’re not a protected class and shouldn’t be. We are a government of the people only as long as the people have a voice, and that voice shouldn’t be required to comply with any so-called “professional” standards. If that’s the case, only the élite voices will be heard.
This is why I find Mr. Wycliff’s column so refreshing. As a public editor, he hears daily from the everyday folks that his paper is supposed to be serving, and that’s a perspective to which I can really relate.


  1. If not the for anonymous source, many crimes never would have come to light, and the perpetrators of the most the infamous crimes in our country would never have been caught.

    That’s the trade-off.

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