Free Markets, Free People

Michigan legislator proposes law to license journalists

The idea that the states were to be the “laboratories of freedom” has been an idea expressed for years by advocates of liberty. New concepts, supposedly rooted in liberty, were to be tried in the states to see if they worked and could be applied more broadly within the nation.

But, as we’ve learned over the years, the states can also be laboratories of tyranny as well. Or at least attempts at tyranny. Michigan offers the latest example:

A Michigan lawmaker wants to license reporters to ensure they’re credible and vet them for “good moral character.”

Nothing nebulous or arbitrary there. More importantly, since when – given the 1st Amendment to the Constitution – does any legislative body have the power to regulate speech? The 1st Amendment was incorporated to apply to the states in 1925 (See Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925)(dicta)).

Here’s the interesting part – the legislator in question is a Republican and, according to the article, “practices Constitutional law.” He may practice it, but he doesn’t appear to understand it very well.

He claims his desire to regulate the licensing of journalists is in the public interest.

“Legitimate media sources are critically important to our government,” he said.

He told FoxNews.com 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.

“We have to be able to get good information,” he said. “We have to be able to rely on the source and to understand the credentials of the source.”

If you missed the nuance, he’s essentially saying that government, through it’s licensing process, will determine what media is “legitimate” and what isn’t. No state seal of approval (i.e. license) equals illegitimate media.

The obvious problem, even to those a little slow on the uptake, is not just the licensing, but the power that gives government to show it’s displeasure with a journalist or the story (or investigation, etc.) the journalist has produced by pulling his or her license.

Instantly delegitimized.

These are the provisions of the bill:

According to the bill, reporters must provide the licensing board proof of:

–”Good moral character” and demonstrate they have industry “ethics standards acceptable to the board.”

–Possession of a degree in journalism or other degree substantially equivalent.

–Not less than 3 years experience as a reporter or any other relevant background information.

–Awards or recognition related to being a reporter.

–Three or more writing samples.

Reporters will also have to pay an application and registration fee.

The bill doesn’t prevent others who are not licensed by the state from covering Michigan (certainly not initially), but the intent is clear.

Bruce Patterson, the legislator in question, says there’s little chance his bill will pass. As others point out, it is a single sponsor bill. And Patterson is now claiming that he’s only trying to provoke a discussion with his bill to point out the difficulty of knowing if an information source is legitimate:

“What’s the definition of a reporter? I haven’t been able to find out? What’s a reporter? What’s a journalist?” Patterson said. “I thought you had to have a degree in journalism but apparently not. I could retire and be a journalist.”

Patterson said he wants a central place where members of the public can go to find out about reporters’ credentials, background and experience. “I’m talking about a central depository for information so someone can go find all that out,”

Patterson said, comparing his idea to the vetting process for expert witnesses who testify in court. The senator said that he feels that there’s no way to tell who’s a legitimate journalist and who’s just rewriting other reporters’ reporting and twisting facts.

Hmmm … how about assuming the responsibility on your own? I would guess that most of us who read the offerings on the net, for instance, and various blogs know which ones we can trust and which ones aren’t at all trustworthy. We also know enough check something controversial with numerous sources. Most of us have hear of snopes.com and factcheck.org where we can vet rumors. What we certainly don’t need is some state deciding the only “legitimate” reporters out there are some “J school” grad – not with what we’ve seen over the past few years from their ilk.

Anyway, I found this to be quite interesting. I don’t necessarily buy into his contention that he introduced this just to stir discussion (I’m guessing that’s his fall-back position after receiving a lot of resistance to this) but it certainly has.

The most important thing it suggests is there are people on both sides who would regulate your life to a point where most choice – the essence of freedom – would be removed from it. And, they are in both parties – an important point. What is important to do, and one of the function of blogs, in my opinion, is to expose such ideas to the light of day. Of course, had I done this under the auspices of the proposed Michigan law, I’d have been an illegitimate source and you would be advised to ignore me.

~McQ

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12 Responses to Michigan legislator proposes law to license journalists

  • But, as we’ve learned over the years, the states can also be laboratories of tyranny as well.

    Well, sure.  That is just the other side of the coin of choice.
    And, sure, we have tyrants on both sides of the political isle.  I suppose we always have had.  A. Lincoln had a pretty dark side, relative to the Constitution and liberty.
    I am actually pretty heartened by this story; boobaphone writes bad law, law dies; no harm, no foul.  I’m also heartened because I know (pretty much) this law would never withstand a legal challenge.
    Now, when (not if) we see the Obamic plan for restricting free speech further, I WILL be worried, because it will have power behind it, and people who we know to be tyrants.

  • This is that “slippery slope”

  • “Hmmm … how about assuming the responsibility on your own? I would guess that most of us who read the offerings on the net, for instance, and various blogs know which ones we can trust and which ones aren’t at all trustworthy. We also know enough check something controversial with numerous sources. Most of us have hear of snopes.com and factcheck.org where we can vet rumors. What we certainly don’t need is some state deciding the only “legitimate” reporters out there are some “J school” grad – not with what we’ve seen over the past few years from their ilk.”
     
    That’s fine for you.  The majority of the public gets their news dose from the 3 networks, newspapers or CNN and take it without question.
     
    I’m not saying his approach isn’t tyrannical.  But to deny that a sizable block of people aren’t heavily manipulated by a  mostly left media isn’t correct either.
     
    I would also say that snopes and factcheck aren’t completely bias free either.

    • I’d add to your fine comment this; most of us on the right OFTEN read stuff from the other side.  The commentators I most listen to or read make VERY heavy reference to what the collectivists are saying and writing.  A lot of what I write is a fisking exercise of the blather from the MSM types.
       
      BUT, I TOTALLY agree with McQ’s outrage at the notion(s) behind the bill referenced.  They are…apparently…loopy enough that the bill is DOA.  The author SHOULD be the focus of considerable disdain, and public disgust.
       
      The very fact that we got this news in the medium we have points to the IMMENSE value of what we have now, via the interweb thingy.  That is under attack by MUCH more competent, subtle people than this Michigan moke.
       
      Cudos to McQ for the dig, and for his well-deserved outrage.

    • Licensing journalists won’t make the news any less biased or poor, jpm. It will simply create a class of state approved journalists who I would guess, in the long run, would figure out on which side their bread is buttered (or perhaps better – who owns the butter and what is neccessary to get their’s.).

  • And, as if on cue…
     
    We have this little crap sandwich from the Obamic delicatessen….
     
    http://directorblue.blogspot.com/2010/05/welcome-to-venezuela-ftc-proposes.html

  • This has ZERO to do with left or right.  This has to do with the political class wanting to maintain their own power.  Hogs at the trough.

    But I tell you what, I’m all for it……as long as we start licensing pols for “good moral character” first.

  • ” the legislator in question is a Republican ”

    I am not really surprised at that.

  • Let me guess. This guy was snookered by some left wing blogger who convinced him he was a journalist but then screwed him hard or wasted his time. Or, he met some complete idiot who just came in from New York and did not know anything about Michigan politics but was supposed to cover it.
    I doubt having a journalism degree as a requirement or 3 writing samples will stop any of that from happening, but it might let politicians screen better. Not a good idea. On so many levels.

  • I have at times thought about the reverse of this bill.
    It is legal for the government to put cameras in public places to watch the people so we put webcameras in their offices for the people to watch them. They want background checks for journalists so we run FBI background checks on anyone who runs for public office and make those checks public.