Dear Professional Press, You Aren’t Special
The First Amendment is one of the greatest things about the U.S. Constitution. But in these days of press fainting with a bout of the vapors, it is also worth noting that the First Amendment applies to all of us, not just the folks with the PRESS label sticking out of their fedoras.
If you are involved in the commission of a crime, you don’t get to magically yell “press” and have the issue pass by. While there’s no role for the government in suppressing speech, the government has a vested interest in fighting crime.
The press does not have special powers not afforded to the rest of us. If you have material relevant to a crime and think that magical source protection applies, there’s no constitutional right to a confidential source.
Even worse, we live in an era where the artificial distinction between professionalized journalism and journalism created by amateurs has been obliterated. You aren’t magically “press” because you print something on paper and have a (dwindling) amount of people who pay you for it.
That’s why you can’t have this protected class of First Amendment practitioners. The Constitution protects us all but it doesn’t elevate the professional press above the rest of us.
I supported investigations into the leaking of classified national security material under the Bush administration, and while I do think there’s a legitimate issue about over classification of information, I believe that the law is the law and you work knowing the consequences of flaunting that. Even when I agree that the information morally should be exposed, those who leak this sort of classified information must deal with the legal consequences of their actions, professional press or not.