First Amendment will face difficult trials

The freedom of the press clause in our beloved First Amendment is about to undergo perhaps its most serious challenges, because “the press” isn’t as neatly defined as it once was. A fascinating case in Phoenix is headed for court, and it ought to give any practicing journalist pause.

According to The Arizona Republic, blogger Jeff Pataky’s home was raided by ten Phoenix police officers armed with a warrant last month. He was out of town, and his girlfriend was handcuffed for three hours while police conducted the raid. They seized computers, files and anything associated with Pataky’s website — are you ready for this? — Bad Phoenix Cops.

Pataky apparently has an axe to grind with Phoenix police but says his site contains tips and inside information that comes from “good” cops in Phoenix. Now that the department has all of Pataky’s equipment and files, it’s pretty easy to see where this is going.

“We have heard internally from our police sources that they purposefully did this to stop me,” Pataky told the newspaper. “They took my cable modem and wireless router. Anyone worth their salt knows nothing is stored in the cable modem.”

But here’s what really bothers me. In justifying the raid, Phoenix Assistant Chief Andy Anderson called Pataky’s site “an unaccredited grassroots Web site.” Um, Chief Anderson, who “accredits” web sites? This is the most chilling part of the whole thing to me, because the police and the courts in Phoenix have taken it upon themselves to determine who qualifies as “the press.” And here’s the thing: anybody with an ounce of ink in their blood knows that Pataky deserves First Amendment protection, but they’re unlikely to say it publicly, because “the (professional) press” thinks of itself as a special class of people and have railed for years against the likes of Pataky.

As more and more journalists transfer their work from institutions that wear the label “press” to “unaccredited grassroots web sites,” this whole business of who is and isn’t a journalist will be tested. Disgruntled elements in the culture now have a way for their side of the story to be published, and this will further the challenge to modernist authority, whether its the public or private sector. Fasten your seat belts, folks.

Frankly, the Arizona Attorney General’s office needs to step in here, because there’s no way the local authorities can investigate this case without embarrassing themselves and the entire city of Phoenix.

(Hat tip to Carlos Miller)

Comments

  1. Does the phrase “freedom of speech, or of the press” in the First Amendment refer to a profession?

    I thought press means the printing press, since in 1791 there was no press as we understand it.

    According til Online Etymology Dictionary the meaning of the word press changed gradually from araound 1800 — 1820:

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=press

    English is not my first language, so I might get it all wrong.

  2. coldbrew says

    Heads need to roll if the claims made to get the search warrant do not meet the required standards. Slander, if this is related to such, needs to be addressed in civil court. If I paid taxes there, I would be livid.

    I have a list of business ‘plans’, one of which is the use of inconspicuous cameras on citizens’ person, car, house, etc in order to better document actions of those with power, coupled with live recording to ‘the cloud’ as a service ($/month). It looks like this might be a business worth considering

  3. It looks like Jeff Pataky was right about there being bad cops in Phoenix. Not to mention at least one bad judge as well.

  4. This sounds so much like ONLY one side of a story. Anyone want to publish the Search Warrant? It will say what is to be recovered and it’s alledged criminal involvement.

  5. the guy would so further his efforts by dropping the “jack ass” and sexual doings of the dude’s wife references.

    dr. jack kevorkian’s cause was really hindered by his legal respresentation at the time (geoff fieger).

    i told him so at a memorial day parade we both took part in. i also told him i like geoff, but not in that situation.

    people easily confuse the message with that of its messenger.

  6. You’re correct, Mr. Hansen. “Press” meant the printing press at the time the Constitution was written. Nowadays, people (especially members of “the press”) like to think that the Framers referred to the the press as a profession or body just as we do today.

    Of course, the correct interpretation gives all writers broader protection.

  7. Right Wing Nutter says

    There are some very good encryption products that can keep ones list of sources private from just about anyone, including NSA short of some intensive and expensive effort. They would be more than sufficient to stop a nosy sheriff cold. If you’re taking on some power structure in whose jurisdiction you reside, consider such things.

    Coldbrew’s idea of pushing real time video of raids to a web cloud is worth considering too.

    Finally, a good way to detect software and hardware keystroke loggers would be useful.

  8. jmproffitt says

    Amazing. The traditional press and the powers-that-be appear to be working together, albeit for different reasons and without actual coördination. In Alaska we just had a sitting legislator use state resources to reveal and publish the identity of an anonymous blogger that was critical of Governor / VP candidate / Governor Sarah Palin. The blogger was also critical of the legislator.

    But the kicker is that the legislator is a former newspaper columnist. For a week after the “outing” of the blogger, you could watch, in print, as all the “professional” journalists locked arms and said, “Serve’s ya right for publishing anonymously. Nyah!”

    The deepest irony? The columnist-turned-legislator kept the anonymous identity of his employer’s gossip columnist for more than 10 years. And the gossip columnist herself, formerly anonymous, tsk-tsked at the now-made-public blogger.

    There will be more cases like the ones in Alaska and Arizona. The powers-that-be are realizing that the people formerly known as the audience and the mindless voters actually have a voice in this world. Right now, they’re working to silence the new voices.

    It’s not a conspiracy, and it’s not universal, but the old, the weak and the corrupt will use the levers of power to get at those that exemplify a new world in which the playing field is increasingly flattened. That goes for blogging, online video, news — you name it.

  9. In this post Terry Heaton seems to accept the term “the press” in the first amendment as a profession. Do you, Terry?

    If the word “press” in the first amendment refers to “the printing press” and not the profession “the press”, then the fight should be about establishing that (Thank you for the clarification, Jack).

    The discussion should not be about defining “the press” as a profession — or even accepting this definition. It does not matter who “the press” is if “the press” is “the printing press”. The first amendment covers everybody. It is all about clarifing that.

  10. @¸ren Storm Hansen — I couldn’t agree with you more, and that has been a general theme of my writing for years. However, the professional press doesn’t agree and believes the “right” belongs only to them. Even in the new shield law plodding through congress, there is an implied sense that only sources of “professional” news organizations are qualified for protection. I think this is one of the biggest issues facing journalism today. Thanks for your note.

  11. @Terry Heaton

    Thank you. I was a little worried. I have followed your blog for about 2 years, and I like allmost every word.

    I think the publishers of 1791 were more like todays bloggers than todays press. The authors of the first amendment had the likes of bloggers in their mind, I think.

    The discussion today would be different if they wrote “the printing press” and not “the press”.

    In my country, Denmark, we don’t have a problem with freedom of speech. It’s in our constitution, and our government protects it well.

    But “the press” like to talk about “pressefrihed”. This is a sort of translation of “freedom of the press”, but the reference to the printing press is gone. That makes it very difficult to explain the original meaning of the expression.

    And what is this “World Press Freedom Day”:

    http://www.un.org/events/pressday/

    It’s not about freedom of speech.

    I think the problem is more or less global, and it all comes back to your “freedom of the press” in the first amendment.

    I admire the first amendment. I think it was an inspiration to our constitution and to many others.

    But we have a problem now. The press is stressed, and they don’t like freedom of speech. They loooove freedom of press. We should change “World Press Freedom Day” to “World Freedom of Speech Day”.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Terry Heaton, though, points out the most disturbing part of this story: In justifying the raid, Phoenix Assistant Chief Andy Anderson called Pataky’s site “an unaccredited grassroots Web site.” Um, Chief Anderson, who “accredits” web sites? This is the most chilling part of the whole thing to me, because the police and the courts in Phoenix have taken it upon themselves to determine who qualifies as “the press.” […]

  2. […] It looks like police are starting to take amendment interpretation into their own hands. The Phoenix police department conducted a wonderful raid against a local blogger. The reason? He runs a blog called Bad Phoenix Cops. They even had the audacity to remove the gentleman’s cable modem. […]

  3. […] The best advice I can give you is put Terry Heaton in your feedreader. The freedom of the press clause in our beloved First Amendment is about to undergo perhaps its most serious challenges, because “the press” isn’t as neatly defined as it once was. A fascinating case in Phoenix is headed for court, and it ought to give any practicing journalist pause. […]

  4. […] That’s what they called a blogger so they could raid his house. Raided and computers seized. For criticizing bad cops. […]

  5. […] Terry Heaton looks at the First Amendment outrages in the City’s defense of the incident. But here’s what really bothers me. In justifying the raid, Phoenix Assistant Chief Andy Anderson called Pataky’s site “an unaccredited grassroots Web site.” Um, Chief Anderson, who “accredits” web sites? This is the most chilling part of the whole thing to me, because the police and the courts in Phoenix have taken it upon themselves to determine who qualifies as “the press.” And here’s the thing: anybody with an ounce of ink in their blood knows that Pataky deserves First Amendment protection, but they’re unlikely to say it publicly, because “the (professional) press” thinks of itself as a special class of people and have railed for years against the likes of Pataky. […]

  6. […] Rush Limbaugh Gets Pwned by Caller: ‘You, Hannity, Hewitt, and Levin are all brainwashed and you know it.’ Southern California Is For Suckers: Behind our house was a towering tree, just loaded with bees. The Fall of Newspapers, Rise of The Daily Me: There’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t want good information—but rather information that confirms our prejudices. Annals of Unfortunate Spellcheck Accidents: The caption described a photograph illustrating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ General Conference, and it referred to the group’s “Quorum of Twelve Apostates” rather than ‘Apostles.’  First Amendment Will Face Difficult Trials: ‘Bad Phoenix Cops’ blogger Jeff Pataky’s home was raided by ten Phoenix police officers last month. Remember When TV News Was a No-Cry Zone? Todays new emotional media is a hybrid beast: Phil Donahue meets Charles Coughlin. Sarah Palin on Levi Johnston: ‘Bristol’s focus will remain on raising Tripp, completing her education, and advocating abstinence.’ […]

  7. […] El blog del Citizen Media Law Project, sobre periodismo ciudadano y Derecho, dependiente del  Berkman Center for Internet & Society de la Universidad de Harvard se ha hecho eco del suceso, al igual que numerosos blogs sobre medios ciudadanos y libertades, como The PoMo Blog y Photography is Not a Crime.  Medios tradicionales, como la televisión local KPHO (incluye vídeo) y el diario Arizona Republic,  también han cubierto el caso, si bien los grandes medios nacionales de EEUU han mantenido la distancia.  Según Pataky, esto es debido a que Arizona está en la frontera con ©xico y se busca mostrar una imagen positiva de la policía en esta zona sensible, ahora que arrecia la violencia entre los cárteles mejicanos de la droga. […]

  8. […] Welcome to a can of worms.  And to be quite honest, there will be many, many posts that come back to the words above.  But for now, I’d like to draw your attention to a story coming out of Phoenix. […]

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