Senator Graham Questions Whether the First Amendment Protects Blogs

June 5th, 2013

The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. These are benchmark liberties that define our Republic. Ever since news broke that the Obama administration’s Department of Justice spied on Associated Press reporters in an attempt to find out who leaked confidential information, lawmakers have been considering the proposal of a new media shield law. However, there already is a media shield law — the First Amendment.

When asked about this particular issue, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, known for declaring the United States a battlefield in which he believes the laws of war apply, gave a nuanced answer that seemed to imply that the First Amendment only protects paid journalists working for media corporations. National Journal quotes Graham as saying, “Who is a journalist is a question we need to ask ourselves. Is any blogger out there saying anything—do they deserve First Amendment protection? These are the issues of our times.” Contrary to Graham’s bizarre statement, this is not an issue of our time. It’s settled law and has been since the formation of the US government.

The First Amendment Is the Ultimate Media Shield Law

Vague sentiments regarding national security are being used as a justification to challenge the basic notion of freedom of speech. Since allegedly classified information leaked to a journalist, the administration felt justified in spying on AP reporters. While employees of the government may have signed some type of document swearing that they will not share certain types of data, there is no moral justification for a reporter to be held in any way culpable for reporting on issues of national security that were intended to be classified but leaked.

First of all, reporters don’t have any way of knowing what may or may not be “classified for national security.” The executive branch abuses that classification all too frequently. Also, the vast majority of executive branch leaks have been carried out by whistle-blowers in an effort to expose corruption. Once every few decades, there will be a serious leak where a spy sells classified weapons technology to an enemy government, and, in those cases, it’s easy to get a conviction. The fact that ordinary incidences of journalism and whistle-blowing are being equated to treasonous activity is alarming.

Protecting Journalists’ Sources

According to The Atlantic, 49 US states have laws on the books that protect journalists from having to reveal sources to private parties or the government. This is important, as it prevents whistle-blowers from fearing retaliation after exposing corruption to the media. If government employees knew that higher-ups could pressure reporters into giving up their identities, they would never feel comfortable opening up to journalists.

By doubting whether or not bloggers and social media pundits are considered a part of the nation’s press, Graham’s question conjures a future in which journalists might be required to get special approval from the government in order to exercise free speech. Worse still, bloggers or Twitter users who aggregate the news might find themselves in serious trouble after sharing links found on mainstream news websites. Also, news bloggers who hit rough times and can’t find paid work might have their First Amendment rights violated for posts made on an up-and-coming blog that hasn’t yet been monetized.

It’s the government’s fault that it can’t keep its own secrets. The executive branch has too many secrets in the first place. Lindsey Graham’s question has an easy answer: yes, the First Amendment protects blogs, and, yes, “bloggers out there saying anything” are journalists and deserve freedom of the press.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.