The Los Angeles Times ran an opinion piece by David Shaw on blogging that argued against extending First Amendment protections to the “solipsistic, self-aggrandizing journalist-wannabe genre.” He wrote that bloggers didn’t deserve such consideration because we do not have editors and fact-checkers to ensure that we don’t make errors or slander people.
Then Shaw used Matt Drudge, who even Shaw acknowledges as a questionable blogger, to make his point. Somehow his editor missed that. (He’s not a blogger; he’s a news aggregator. Different animal.)
Jack Shafer at Slate didn’t miss it, or the irony of Shaw’s screed, and he takes Shaw to the woodshed in his response at Slate this morning. Not only does Shafer point out the goofiness of Shaw basing his entire argument on quality while failing to use a correct example, but Shafer also teaches Shaw a little First Amendment history along the way:
Giving every indication that he’s read a lot of stories about bloggers but not that many actual blogs, Shaw disparages the form as the error-filled rants of amateurs in his piece, “Do Bloggers Deserve Basic Journalistic Protections?” …
These nameless bloggers don’t deserve the “same constitutional protections as traditional print and broadcast journalists,” Shaw writes. Specifically, he opposes their right to use state shield laws to protect their confidential sources when subpoenaed, as are three bloggers who are facing down Apple Computer in a trade secret case.
What gave Shaw the impression that the law accords print and broadcast journalists the same rights? The “Equal Time Rule” for political candidates requires broadcasters to treat legally qualified candidates the same whenever it sells air time or gives it away (unless a waiver is granted, as in the presidential debates). It must also sell advertising at discount rates to political candidates. No such rules apply to print, which can’t be forced to sell ads at all.
Also, until it was repealed 1987, the “Fairness Doctrine” forced all TV and radio broadcasters to present balanced and fair coverage of controversial issues. Again, no such requirement has ever been imposed on print journalists. Whatever First Amendment parity Shaw thinks broadcast journalists enjoy with print journalists, they’ve had to fight for every step of the way, and many of those “rights” could be legislated away tomorrow.
What compels Shaw to write such slapdash copy? Is he trying to get his opinions out there as fast they pop into his brain?
Shafer also notes that the so-called legitimate press makes plenty of mistakes that never get prominent corrections. In fact, Shafer takes his examples from such prominent stories as 9/11, Monicagate, and the granddaddy of all press achievements, Watergate — and shows how the revered Walter Cronkite and CBS ran a seriously misleading story without checking the facts. Does anyone remember the white van with the bomb on 9/11 that the FBI supposedly found on an NYC bridge? Jack Shafer does, even if the newspapers and broadcasters who pushed that story have forgotten it.
Read all of Shafer’s delicious scolding. Shaw predicted he would get ravaged by the blogosphere, but an article that obtuse makes an easy target for anyone who defends freedom of speech for writers. Shafer proves himself once again to fit that bill.