Monday, June 7, 2010

Michigan Republican wants to register, regulate reporters

Republican lawmakers across the country seem to have been supporting more and more efforts lately which directly contradict the Constitution. Now that much of the GOP establishment has established the news media as one of their favorite punching bags, I suppose it was only a matter of time before a Republican legislator tried to go after the First Amendment itself.
A Michigan lawmaker wants to register reporters to ensure they’re credible and have “good moral character.” State Sen. Bruce Patterson ... says the general public is being overwhelmed by an increasing number of media outlets -- traditional, online and citizen generated -- and an even greater amount of misinformation. “Legitimate media sources are critically important to our government,” he said.
On Sen. Patterson's actual quote, I couldn't agree more. There is an extraordinary amount of misinformation in the media these days (though most of it seems to come from Fox), but at what point does the need for "legitimate" media sources surpass constitutional authority? According to the fascinatingly-mustachioed Sen. Patterson, it's whenever he decides it should.
He told that some reporters covering state politics don’t know what they’re talking about and they’re working for publications he’s never heard of, so he wants to install a process that’ll help him and the general public figure out which reporters to trust.
Yes, you read that right. Bruce Patterson can't tell good journalism from bad, so he wants to pass a law that would decide which sources are reliable and which are not. Sen. Patterson apparently believes his constituents are such poor judges of "moral character" that he wants the state to figure it out for them. Freedom of the press be damned, let's infringe the hell out of those bloggers!

One would think such a wild overreach would outrage even the "journalists" at Fox News, but that would still be overly optimistic. The Fox article actually tried to downplay Patterson's power-grab, comparing his proposed regulations on journalists to how "the state regulates hairdressers, auto mechanics and plumbers." Here's an idea -- until they start awarding Pulitzer prizes for plumbing, let's let the Constitution figure it out.

Now don't get me wrong, I hate bad reporting just as much as the next guy -- as a journalism major, I probably hate it more than the next guy. The advent of the 24-hour news cycle and the drying up of ad revenue means journalists have to do more with less resources, so naturally quality will suffer. And since the corporate-owned media generally put ratings and profits above all else, the seemingly inexorable slide toward infotainment has corrupted journalism even further. Make no mistake, the government has taken full advantage of the watchdog's deterioration. "The media I've had a lot to do with is lazy," top Reagan aide Michael Dever said after being convicted of perjury. "We fed them and they ate it every day."

With all the misinformation and inanity on teevee and the Internet, the idea of regulating journalism in order to improve its quality is admittedly tempting. Still, there's a reason the founding fathers put that amendment first. Franklin Roosevelt once said, “If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free." That includes recognizing attempts to tamper with the press for what they are -- unconstitutional assaults on one of the country's most sacred institutions -- and rejecting them accordingly.

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