A couple of weeks ago we talked about a Tennessee legislator's proposal to revoke a reporter's press credentials. Now a Michigan lawmaker wants reporters to register with the government to insure they are credible and have "good moral character."
State senator Bruce Patterson says he is simply trying to help the public sort through the myriad of news sources and information now available. Apparently he feels the public can't make these kinds of decisions on its own, and needs the government's help.
According to the proposals, journalists who want to cover politics would voluntarily present their credentials to some kind of government agency to include, among other things, proof of good moral character and ethical standards, writing samples and at least 3 years of professional experience.
As you might expect, all sorts of people are speaking out against the proposals, usually on First Amendment grounds. But I think there are more practical reasons for opposition.
On at least one point, Patterson is correct: he says these days he can't figure out who is a journalist or a reporter. And you know what, lots of times I can't either. Let's see, I recognize several names from the New York Times, C-N-N and N-P-R. But what about that story in the M-T-S-U student newspaper, "Sidelines"? Was that written by a journalist or by a student? And does it matter, so long as the information is accurate?
"Ah," you may be saying, "there's the rub: accurate information. We need a government agency to determine accuracy."
Well, in a word, I don't think so. The last thing we need is some government bureaucrat determining what is or is not accurate in the news. And I'd be willing to bet a few dozen donuts that most republican officials say C-N-N reporters are wrong, while at the same time most democrat officials say Fox reporters are wrong. After all, your side is always right, and their side is always wrong.
In another area Patterson is right: you can't tell what the truth is these days. Well, here's a handy truth detector that works with almost 100 percent accuracy: any time you see a government official saying something, ask your self these questions: 1, why is the official telling me this; 2, what's in it for him or her; and 3, what point is he or she trying to prove? In almost every case you'll find the official is only telling part of the truth, and that part is self-serving at best.
The preamble to the Constitution begins with the words, "We the people." Well we the people don't need some partisan government agency determining what the truth is, or giving a stamp of approval to those who want to tell us, by whatever means, what our government is doing.
I'm Larry Burriss.
(Dr. Larry Burris is a professor the the School of Journalism at MTSU and does radio commentary)