By Grant Bosse |New Hampshire Watchdog
Juan Williams built up a lot of political capital in the conservative blogosphere when National Public Radio fired him for daring to appear on Fox News. He spent that capital last week
On Fox’s Hannity show, Williams and Michelle Malkin were debating the legacy media’s double standard over the Valerie Plame scandal and the Obama administration’s current torrent of national security leaks. In trying to defending the release of classified material to outlets such as the New York Times, Williams said “I’m a real reporter, not a blogger out in the blogsphere somewhere.” And real reporters get information the rest of us don’t have all the time.
First of all, calling Michelle Malkin “a blogger out in the blogosphere” is like calling the Mona Lisa “a painting somewhere in Europe,” if the Mona Lisa had an acerbic wit and 289,364 Twitter followers. Malkin has broken wide open some of the biggest stories of the past decade, and literally wrote the book on corruption within the Obama political machine.
Williams condescending comments set off an Internet firestorm, launched the #JustABlogger and #RealReporter hashtags on Twitter, and prompted a renewed debate over what it means to be a journalist these days. Williams seems to think that his class of approved journalists should get special access to our nations’ secrets.
Some politicians think they should decide who covers their campaigns. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin tried to throw Wisconsin Reporter’s Ryan Eckvall out of the hotel where the DPW was holding its convention because his coverage of the Wisconsin recall. U.S. Sen Jon Tester’s campaign asked a Watchdog.org reporter to stop covering Tester’s victory speech during the Montana primary.
In my three-plus years running NH Watchdog for the Josiah Bartlett Center, I’ve been kicked off the floor of the New Hampshire Senate, asked to leave the governor’s budget briefing, and been denied press credentials from the New Hampshire House.
Republicans and Democrats have made it harder for me to do my job because I’m not a “real reporter.” But we kept tracking down data, asking annoying questions, and telling people what we found. I’m happy to let our readers decide if I’m a real reporter.
We can’t let elected officials or candidates choose their own press corps, and we can’t stop covering politicians who make it inconvenient. There is no license required to practice journalism. People don’t trust politicians, or the press corps that cover them. So they’re going to other sources to find the information they need. These days, credibility is more important than credentials, and the people you trust most are the people you know.
Our constitutional protections for freedom of speech and freedom of the press are both contained in the First Amendment because they are essentially the same thing.
Journalism is an activity, not a club. If you are reporting news, then you are a reporter, and employment at a newspaper or membership in a trade association grants you no more rights than every other American citizen.
Blogging smashed the barriers to entry for journalism. You no longer had to buy ink by the barrel to share what government was doing. Social media lower those costs even more. You don’t need a blog of your own to share political news with your social circle.
Sure, the quality of this broad wave of citizen journalism varies greatly, but have you watched what passes for “real reporting” on the evening news lately? Adding more eyes and more voices is a good thing.
The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity is not only riding this wave, but helping aspiring journalists get better at their craft. The Franklin Center’s Citizen Watchdog Project provides training and support for real reporters, who happen to do something else for a living. The training seminars being held across the country this summer will teach the techniques and standards that Williams’ professional class of journalists too often fail to uphold.
If you think you’d like to uncover stories that Juan Williams and his fellow “real reporters” haven’t gotten around to, I’d encourage you become a Citizen Watchdog.
Grant Bosse is lead investigator for the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank based in Concord, NH.