When Rahm Emanuel said that the government must never let an emergency go to waste, I thought he meant natural disasters or other random events. But it is far worse than that. What is happening right now in the Senate reveals a perverse sequence of events.
- The government breaks the law of the land, the First Amendment, thus creating an emergency.
- The government says it will solve the crisis by creating a law to prevent the government from violating the First Amendment.
- The government creates a law that effectively weakens the First Amendment.
The government gets an opportunity to weaken or nullify a law by first breaking it and then promising to “fix” the break.
In this case, the US government obtained a warrant to monitor a journalist’s emails by claiming he was a potential co-conspirator in a leak investigation. In other words, the government was claiming (and the court granting the warrant agreed) that a journalist simply doing journalism was guilty of a crime. The premise of the warrant was that we had no First Amendment in our Constitution.
But now that the the government was caught in this crime, it has made an aggressive move forward by promising to “fix” the problem by making a “media shield law.” Of course, since we already have a great media shield law (it is called, the First Amendment!), there was no need to fix anything. The purpose of the media shield law is to try to forever weaken the First Amendment rather than to fix it.
Thus, AP reports:
“A Senate panel on Thursday approved a measure defining a journalist, which had been an obstacle to broader media shield legislation designed to protect reporters and the news media from having to reveal their sources… The vote was 13-5 for a compromise defining a ‘covered journalist’ as an employee, independent contractor or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information. The individual would have been employed for one year within the last 20 or three months within the last five years. It would apply to student journalists or someone with a considerable amount of freelance work in the last five years. A federal judge also would have the discretion to declare an individual a ‘covered journalist,’ who would be granted the privileges of the law.”
This is a bold and aggressive move against the Constitution.
The First Amendment guarantees not just freedom for “journalists,” but freedom of speech in general. While Federal employees can be prosecuted for leaking secrets, the people who reveal those secrets to the public are supposed to be protected. Otherwise, democracy would simply be impossible because the people would have no way of knowing what the government is doing. Basically, the First Amendment authorizes the people to be left alone when they learn things about the government that the government doesn’t want them to know.
It is no surprise that our government wants to take this power away from the American people. By claiming the right to decide who does and who does not get the protection of the First Amendment, our government is launching an attack on bloggers and others in the alternative media. Matt Drudge was right to be angry.