When I wrote about law enforcement apparently targeting journalists, in reports a Federal judge found so credible he grated a temporary restraining order, I received a few comments. They were...heated. Vitriolic. The people who wrote them are free to hold such ideas, of course. I'm not obliged to post them on my blog, but I will quote from them in order to address the significant concerns they raise.Followed later in the post by this:
As for "lefty so-called journalists," there's nothing in the Bill of Rights that limits press freedom to one political leaning or another: John Stossel, Glenn Greenwald, Sean Hannity, Rachael Maddow and some nitwit with a blog are all protected from government interference, even when they're offering up nothing but opinion. " It is generally understood that the government is expected to not shoot them, especially when they have taken pains to make themselves identifiable as "press.My thanks to Roberta X for including me in her list of protected examples. :)
All of which to frame my question; what is the practical distinction between "press" and "activist", and does the one necessarily preclude being the other? If so, by what degree, and by what discernible measure available to the average onlooker?
As justification for my questions, I submit the documented actions of Canadian journalist/activist Lauren Southern. A paid (and therefore professional) journalist for online media companies, Southern nonetheless actively participated in the activities she was reporting on as a clearly identified member of the "press", an activity she continued to various degree in her subsequent professional iteration as a documentarian.
As Ms. Southern's past actions make clear, there is a very real distinction that needs to be made between those who "report" from within the ranks of those committing a "political action", and those who clearly, physically delineate the separation between themselves and those they are reporting on, regardless of whether, or by what means, they mark themselves and/or their apparel.
Unless and to the degree the effort is undertaken to make that distinction between press (those observing and commentating on others visible, or at least demonstrably known to them, but of which they are discernibly not a part) and activists (those who participate in the activities which they may or may not be also reporting on - regardless of any 1st Amendment-begging disguise they may affect while doing so), there can never be any practical means for police (who are by design the action arm(s) of government's enforcement efforts) to make any reliable distinction between them. Are we as a society to accept that any random seditionist or scofflaw is to be permitted carte blanche because of a questionable mastery of a Sharpie pen? Taking the opposite tack, where in the 1st Amendment is delineated the means and mechanisms by which "press" must be identified to qualify for the stipulated freedoms therein?
As should be clear by now, the concept of "freedom of speech" and "freedom of the press" are not at all simple in their instantiation, nor are they amenable to simplistic applications of theory or principle by any of the involved parties. Those who choose to take active part in reporting on events of the day, especially those who do so in the moment, necessarily must also assume an elevated degree of personal responsibility for what befalls them as a result of their immediate presence to events. Similarly, we citizens should make a regular practice of joggling the elbows of our state and national legislators to craft legislation that assists government (and citizens more generally) making spontaneous distinction between bystander observers, and those involved more directly, a greater degree of likelihood.
It truly is essential that a self-governing people have ready access to knowledge of events effecting the function of their society. Reliably being able to discern who said what to whom, and within which topic or activity that all took place, really has to be the minimum necessary knowledge base that any society needs to develop the means for its citizens to obtain in a clearly discernibly biased fashion. Unless and until we do that, we are going to continue to suffer examples of police applying the tactic(s) of the day (more commonly night) to all and sundry they come in contact with "in the heat of the moment", and the content of the news of the day to be opaque and misleading at best. I think we can all agree that the status quo is far less than desirable, but the currently available alternatives seem at best less than satisfactory either.