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Jounalist Vs Newsman… Who is Qualified to be Each?

Observe with me the mainstream media fighting for its very life, in the form of a blog post at the CBS website by Matt Felling: [1]

I’ve discussed in this space – though in the light and frothy context of inappropriate photos [2] posted online – how once something is on the Internet, it’s in the public domain.

The same goes for legal rulings.

In a fascinating instance, a court’s opinion regarding torture and a coerced confession was posted online at a legal blog. According to ABAJournal.com [3]:

A federal appeals court quickly withdrew an opinion issued yesterday in a case filed by a Sept. 11 detainee because of concerns it contained information filed under seal.

The opinion by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived a lawsuit by Egyptian student Abdullah Higazy who was detained after the attacks. Higazy claimed an FBI agent had coerced him to make a false confession.

The court was not quick enough for the blog How Appealing, which posted the opinion after a reader sent it along by e-mail. A clerk later called blog author Howard Bashman to ask him to take it down, but he has not complied.

In a conversation with the ABA website, Bashman defended himself, saying “In my role as a member of the news media, I determined that it would be inappropriate to take down my posting of the decision based on a general claim that the opinion, issued earlier in the day to the public over the Internet, referred to information contained in an appendix whose contents remained under seal.”

So not only is this a case of transparency, it’s also an anecdote begging the question “What makes someone a journalist?” Bashman called himself a “member of the news media,” yet as far as this writer could tell from a few clicks, he happens to be a Pennsylvania attorney who also operates a blog.

Feiling seems to feel, that Bashman qualifies for the title “journalist”. Though, I hasten to point out he doesn’t specifically say why. But then he goes on to attack this question on to the end of this post;

And another thing: Just why did the court decide to withdraw its opinion? The public statement said something about sensitive information. But then why post it online and make the decision look curious, like a legal do-over? Do we need to call in Miss New Jersey to advise [4] federal judges?

Why are we now asking about the qualifications for somebody to run a web site? is this another example of trying to control the conversation? If the qualification for the title of “journalist” is the unauthorized reprinting of government documents, (something which CBS used to delight in, when the target was a war effort, or the right wing in general) than it would appear that Bashman does qualify. But is that really a defining qualification of “journalist”?

And here’s the point of this post; I would ask, who gets to make that determination? Who gets to decide what is a “journalist” and what is not? And why is it that we struggle with the definition of “journalist”? this may seem to be dancing on the head of the definition, but words are our craft, here, words and the concepts behind them, are all we have. If we let people redefine our words, they redefined the concepts behind them, and twist our meanings into something else altogether. So let’s start with some definitions.

As an example: Remember how it used to be ‘newsman’, and now it’s “journalist”? CBS and the New York Times have ever been at the lead of that ill-advised rush away from “newsman’. Why is this important? Time to refer to my trusty 1956 edition of Barnhart’s dictionary….

“Newsman” is listed as : “A man who gathers, reports, or edits news”; Journalist is listed as someone who keeps a journal, whereas a journal is listed as “The writings of what someone sees or thinks.” A very substantial change of meaning, which allows opinion into the supposedly unbiased “news”…. but enough of one to allow for partisanship without the overt appearance of it. Is it any wonder why the country moved to the left as we moved from “Newsman” to “Journalist”? All part of the ‘greater mission’.

And here it is, people; I am a journalist. So is DavidL. So are any of the literally millions of people who run blogs of all sorts. We opine on the news. We pass along what we think. Unless we are generating original news stories, we are dependent on, and frankly, parasitic on, those who (admittedly, quite loosely, these days ) fill the role of news gatherers… I hold by definition that there is a major difference between the two.

That position of being parasitic on the news gatherers, is not a new one. Pundits have had that relationship through the history of the free press.

The arguments that we see today over whether not someone is qualified to be a “journalist” is a concession to the idea that one who gathers the news has also the moral ability to render opinion as a part of the process. That is a concession that I am unwilling to make. In truth, sticking to the original definition of “journalist”, as I have shown you here, there are no real qualifications for that title. Whether or not there is a qualification for the title of “newsman ” is an open question in my view.

The elephant in the room that Felling refuses to acknowledge in his piece and indeed the entire argument surrounding what a journalist is, and who is qualified to be one, comes down to where the line gets drawn between newsman and journalist. And here’s the thing; it’s going to have actually get down to legal definitions. The government always gets involved in these kind of discussions. The ramifications of getting the definition wrong and then in casing that incorrect definition in law, and enforcing an incorrect definition with the force of government, are too dire to contemplate.

BBCT: Memeorandum [5]

Addendum: (David L)

Nonconcur.  A courtesan [6] is just a high priced whore.  I invoke the Don Surber [7] rule.  I’d rather be known as piano player in a whore house than a journalist.

Some paid news whores have this absurd notion that because they call themselves journalists, they are endowed with some special set of rights.

I need no more rights than that of a citizen.  That all the rights I need, all that I have and all anybody has.  People who call themselvss journalists have no more rights than I.

I discuss that state of our republic, because that is what citizens do.

Addendum: (Bit) I think we may be talking past each other a bit.  I’ve added a comment to explain this.