Watchdog Blog

Gilbert Cranberg: Do You Want a Shield Law that Protects Anthony Martin?

Posted at 10:48 pm, October 16th, 2008
Gilbert Cranberg Mug

There are journalists and then there are so-called journalists. In the latter camp is Anthony Martin, featured in a hour-long program on Fox news recently, in which he was presented as a journalist.

Martin is an obsessive critic of Barack Obama (he says Obama once trained to overthrow the government) and is the source of much of the talk about Obama’s supposedly being a secret Muslim. Martin is anti-Semitic, fond of the Holocaust, been denied membership in the bar because of mental problems and is so litigious that a court blocked him from filing further suits without permission.

If Fox News had put Martin on view as an oddball that might be understandable. Instead, he was presented to three million viewers as a serious journalist whose research is worth attention. Sean Hannity, on whose program Martin appeared, evidently regarded him as a credible journalist. Then again, Hannity’s own credentials as a journalist are suspect. It’s an absolute no-no for journalists, even those in the opinion end of the business, to be actively engaged in politics, but Hannity is known to now and then don a politician’s hat and campaign for political candidates.

Who is a journalist, and who is a so-called journalist, is no idle question. Congress has been attempting to deal with it in the proposed federal shield law.

A version of the proposal passed the House, then stalled in the Senate and is dead for this Congress, but major media groups are geared up for another try next year. The measure defines journalism this way:

“The regular gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.”

That appears to fit what Martin does. It would be unsettling if someone as twisted and litigious as Martin is covered by the final version of the shield law. If he would be entitled to invoke the law, it’s not difficult to imagine his making defamatory allegations and then citing his status as a journalist to bar inquiry into his possibly non-existent sources. After all, one of the country’s major news organizations has attested to his status as a journalist.

When Congress returns to work on the shield proposal it will confront the question posed by people like Martin of how to protect journalists rather than so-called journalists. The prospect of pseudo-journalists being given stature and special legal privileges is scary. Almost as scary, in fact, as the government deciding what is journalism and who is a journalist.

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