Journalists Are Not Special, Even In Ferguson

While we decry the heavy-handed tactics of the police amid the shocking riots in Ferguson, Missouri, let us not pass over the other antagonists in the drama, the media.

It’s unusual for me to disagree with Hot Air’s Mary Katherine Hamm, who says that national reporters are valuable test subjects for Constitutional rights.  Allowing reporters to continue in the illusion that they are something special would demonstrate the widening gap between America and her ruling elites.

Hamm acknowledges the danger in creating a tiered set of rights:

Now, it’s not that the journalists in question are super-citizens who have more rights than the rest of us (though, certainly, the coverage of them will suggest it). They are canaries in a coalmine. If national journalists are arrested at a McDonald’s in Ferguson for what can only be described (and has yet to be described by police, mind you) as some sort of reach of an infraction, how are the regular citizens in this now militarized zone faring?

The trouble is that the reporters in question think of themselves as something different from the maddening crowd of local yokels. They tend to act as if their Journalist Privilege puts them above the police, able to act outside the law because they are not part of events, but merely covering them.

In particular, a journalist might think it’s fine to question police officers about their actions in real time. “Why are you using that semi-automatic assault weapon that way?” Demanding attention while police are quelling a riot crosses a line into interference. I don’t trust journalists to know where that line is.

Journalists may sometimes deserve to spend a few moments in the cooler. They can then write about that, with a more perfect double-edged remedy hard to imagine.

While some dress up journalists in the fine garments of the Public’s Right To Know, those garments obscure the fact that most of the time journalists don’t give a tinker’s cuss about the public’s right to know, and are just trying to sell newspapers, or commercial spots, or page views. They are in business, or their employer is, to make money. The freedom of the press is not a guarantee of commercial success.

None of us is capable of separating our human desire for reward from our search to make information public. Treating journalists as some kind of dispassionate observers whose rights must be defended so that we know everyone’s rights are defended presumes that journalists act in ways no less troublesome than everyone else, a premise I refute by noting that Al Sharpton has press credentials.

Hamm continues,

And, here’s the thing. We ask more of law enforcement in a free society and we should. We don’t accept that everyone in a community must be under the gun because some of them committed crimes. Or, that journalists should be arrested while trying to cover that community…

That phrase “trying to cover” may gloss a multitude of sins, from simply distracting the police to actively encouraging or otherwise affecting the events they are “trying to cover.” It is inarguable that the presence of national media lends an element of drama that would not otherwise be there.

Being a journalist does not confer special rights, nor special status. The law, and more generally the culture, should treat everyone as a journalist, which in light of social media and ubiquitous smart phones, we are.


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