The Free Flow of Information (Act)

by lizard

Journalists vs. Bloggers: a profession scrapping with unpaid information insurgents. Maybe Congress should spend some time defining which forms of media deserve special protection. Chuck Schumer thinks it’s a good idea, and he’s a Democrat, so what is there to worry about?

The bill’s protections would apply to a “covered journalist,” defined as an employee, independent contractor or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information. The individual would have to have been employed for one year within the last 20 or three months within the last five years.

It would apply to student journalists or someone with a considerable amount of freelance work in the last five years. A federal judge also would have the discretion to declare an individual a “covered journalist” who would be granted the privileges of the law.

The bill also says that information is only privileged if it is disseminated by a news medium, described as “newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, news agency, news website, mobile application or other news or information service (whether distributed digitally or otherwise); news program, magazine or other periodical, whether in print, electronic or other format; or thorough television or radio broadcast … or motion picture for public showing.”

While the definition covers traditional and online media, it draws the line at posts on Twitter, blogs or other social media websites by non-journalists.

I wonder why such protections are needed. Could it be the Obama administration is hostile toward journalists?

Today the Committee to Protect Journalists unveiled a detailed, sober assessment of press freedom in the United States during President Obama’s tenure. The report concluded that far from fulfilling his campaign promise to improve transparency, the president has instead presided over an unprecedented campaign to contain leaks and to control media coverage of government operations.

The fact that the CPJ issued the report at all underscores how hostile official policy has been to journalists. While the CPJ has reported on press freedoms in countries around the world since the early 1980s, this is its first investigation focused on the United States. Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, wrote the report, with input from several dozen Washington journalists, media advocates and former government officials.

Downie told The Nation he was most surprised by the unanimity of those reporters about the ways the administration has made their jobs more difficult. The level of specificity the many journalists were able to provide convinced him that the problems were pervasive and exceptional. “The Obama administration’s aggressive war on leaks and its determined efforts to control information that the news media needs to hold the government accountable for its actions are without equal since the Nixon administration,” he said at a press conference this morning.

Locally, the media’s clumsy control of information looks like this. In this local space, progressive bloggers can lament about the effects of vulture capitalism.

It’s a completely different ball game when Seymour Hersh continues to be quarantined to the London Review of Books for bombshell disclosures like possible Turkish involvement in the Sarin attack that nearly triggered a hot US intervention in Syria.

For us bloggers who entertain false flag provocateur possibilities, Hersh’s exemplary journalistic efforts provide a much-appreciated validation of learned skepticism:

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)

I don’t blame “covered journalists” for getting included in the Free Flow of Information Act. Good for them. I hope they can comfortably snuggle in beneath that narrowly defined umbrella.

And let the blogging fringe just carry on flapping in the wind.

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  1. Lizard, there is a contradiction in your thesis. On the one hand, you have journalism, a once proud profession, which has sunk into the corporate control structure so far that the only message conveyed is that of vulture capitalism. On the other, we have an administration that hides from journalists promoting a lack of public transparency concerning policy … just like with the failures and Muslim conspiracy by the illegitimate Kenyon born White House traitor at Benghazi! The dilemma should be clear. If ‘the news’ only reports or spins facts to serve corporate masters, then how can anyone make a factual claim concerning the administration’s ‘transparency’? (Please note that I am not defending Obama or condemning him. I am asserting that many stories that could be considered ‘transparent’ aren’t being reported without agenda by either professionals or bloggers.)

    Frankly, I’d be thrilled if a lot more high-profile politicians displayed hostility to modern journalism, and the stenographers who get paid to be ‘journalists’. Note from your own post that in this context, hostility means not giving them what they want. Dubya openly mocked journalists (hell, he openly mocked everybody) but still they dutifully reported the search for Weapons Program Related Activities. At least that was transparent, as the utter bullshit it was, but still … I’m certain that I’m not the only one who sees a sense of entitlement displayed by the Committee to Protect Journalists. They don’t want the administration to have control of the information that should flow freely directly to journalists with such a minimum of effort. Journalists are entitled to have that information handed to them on a platter. (Do I need to point out that isn’t even remotely what the First Amendment says or implies?) That’s a bit of fantasy right there, don’t you think?

    You are absolutely right that that Fantasy is precisely what Schumer seeks to protect (G.D. Demorats!). But given the opposition that you’ve drawn out here, Lizard, isn’t anyone of power who defies that fantasy something of a ‘good guy’?

  2. I think the fear of Schumer, the Obama administration, and The Establishment, is that without a clear and enforceable definition of a journalist, anyone with a Facebook page and an opinion could claim to be covered by a journalist’s shield law.

    I don’t have a problem with that concern, but I do have a problem with where the line is being drawn because it appears to exclude websites such as 4and20 that provide straight news reports as well as advocacy reports and opinion pieces.

    I thank Lizard for initiating a conversation on this.

  3. steve kelly

    There are so few left in Congress who follow their oath of office that I question the timing.

    Congress is competent at raising money and getting reelected. As long as that remans their primary focus Congress is not competent to legislate issues relating to interpreting and/or restricting freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Clearly, this is an attempt to further narrow, not expand or even maintain, 1st Amendment rights for people and the press.

  1. 1 Information Wars, Journalism and Net Neutrality | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] wrote earlier this month about the attempt to define “covered journalists” with the Free Flow of Information Act. How this term is defined could impact who, for example, spends time in jail for reporting on acts […]




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