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New-media pioneer Matt Drudge called Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a “fascist” after she suggested only “real reporters” deserved protection under a new media-shield law.
“Comments from Sen. Feinstein yesterday on who’s a reporter were disgusting,” Drudge tweeted, adding that a “17-year old ‘blogger’ is as important as Wolf Blitzer.”
“Fascist!” he declared.
Drudge, the owner and operator of the most successful news site on the Internet, took to Twitter to defend bloggers and to hammer the senator.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure late Thursday that would establish a federal shield law for reporters or journalists in the United States.
“I can’t support it if everyone who has a blog has a special privilege … or if Edward Snowden were to sit down and write this stuff, he would have a privilege. I’m not going to go there,” said Feinstein during the committee meeting.
The original amendment, as proposed by Feinstein, had limited the definition of a “journalist” to someone employed by or in contract with “an entity or service that disseminates news and information.”
Under that definition, a student working for a tiny college newspaper would get protection, but Drudge and his new-media brethren might not.
“The fundamental issue behind this amendment is, should this privilege apply to anyone, to a 17-year-old who drops out of high school, buys a website for five dollars and starts a blog? Or should it apply to journalists, to reporters, who have bona fide credentials?” Feinstein asked.
The legislation was amended, before passing out of committee, to define who would be a “covered journalist." That definition had been an obstacle to broader legislation designed to "protect" reporters and the news media from having to reveal their sources.
Feinstein worked with Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a chief proponent of the media-shield legislation, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., as well as representatives from news organizations, on the compromise.
The bill would protect reporters and news media organizations from being required to reveal the identities of confidential sources, but it does not grant an absolute privilege for journalists.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., complained that the definition of a journalist was too broad.
Pushing back, Feinstein said the intent was to set up a test to determine a bona fide journalist.
"I think journalism has a certain tradecraft. It's a profession. I recognize that everyone can think they're a journalist," Feinstein said.
The bill now on the Senate floor would define a journalist as someone employed by or in contract with a media outlet for at least one year within the last 20 years or three months within the last five years; someone with a substantial track record of freelancing in the last five years; or a student journalist. A federal judge also would have the discretion to declare an individual a "covered journalist," who would be granted the privileges of the law.
Drudge pointed out that a federal judge once ruled that he was "not a reporter, a journalist, or a newsgatherer."
"Millions of readers a day come for cooking recipes??!" he asked incredulously.
"Gov't declaring who qualifies for freedom of press in digital age is ridiculous!" Drudge added. "It belongs to anyone for any reason. No amendment necessary."