As a student journalist, a lot goes through my head nowadays when I watch the news. There’s an uprising of general distrust of what some call “the media”. Viewers tend to identify the press as the media, which I don’t understand. Media encompasses several fields; there isn’t a giant, all-powerful group of publishers that make up a secret club. It’s not uncommon for the government to dislike reporters, either. However, this repulsion arises from the fact that journalists write stories that don’t always make the feds shine.
Journalists have the right to report about the government’s activity and choices, but they have little legal protection. Lewis explores this dilemma in chapter six of “Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment”. Beginning with the Garland case, I was shocked to learn that reporters don’t have any sort of constitutional privilege. Though the First Amendment protects the press, there are countless cracks in this amendment’s foundation. For starters, the court doesn’t know how to define who is considered “the press”, a point brought up by Justice Byron R. White in Branzburg v. Hayes. Nowadays, any blogger is arguably part of the press.
There are also no federal shield laws to protect reporters from revealing their sources. After years of debate, it’s now decided on a case-to-case basis. I was shocked to learn that Marie Torre, the columnist sued in the Garland case, was kept in prison after refusing to name her sources. A problem with deciding by case is that journalist licenses might have to be distributed. The press is “often the only defense against the abuse of power” (Lewis, 89), and in the current political climate of America, I feel this now more than ever.
Trump has expressed an open disdain for the press over the past few years. Just tonight it’s been reported that he made vague threats to the press. Trump continuously bashes networks such as NBC and CNN for “fake news”- a term he frequently uses. He has made journalists targets at rallies and protests. I fear this administration will try to strip the press of more freedoms, just as Trump desires. At the end of the day, the government cares more about being criticized than damages against journalists.
You have pointed to important ways in which journalists are unprotected. However, I am not sure about your contention that deciding on a case by case basis might necessitate licensing journalists. Indeed, the case by case approach is what allows the courts to make decisions without relying on a set definition of who is a journalist (which might lead to licensing). It has been this thorny issue that has prevented congress from passing legislation protecting journalists.