Bloggers on the Defensive

Recent developments could greatly infringe the rights of bloggers

| March 10, 2005

Last week two government bodies -- a California court and the Federal Elections Commission -- jumped into the ever-fluid debate about whether or not weblogs qualify as journalism.

In California, a judge handed down a tentative ruling that the first amendment and state shield law rights that protect journalists don't apply to three bloggers who refused to disclose their sources after publishing information about upcoming Apple products.

Also last week, Bradley Smith, one of the six commissioners on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), warned that in just months bloggers could be penalized under the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform law. They could face fines if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site, or forward a political candidate's press release to a mailing list.

Originally in 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet from McCain-Feingold, but a ruling by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision.

Speaking with CNET, Smith said fitting weblogs into the implementation of McCain-Feingold was tricky. 'Do we give bloggers the press exemption? If we don't give bloggers the press exemption, we have the question of, do we extend this to online-only journals like CNET?' he said.

At the root of both developments is the growing debate about whether bloggers qualify as bona fide journalists -- something journalists themselves can't seem to make up their minds on. 'For now, bloggers are a second-tier journalistic species....' Kurt Andersen writes in New York Magazine. He goes on to equate them with parasitic sucking fish. 'They are remoras. The Times and CNN and CBS News are the whales and sharks to which Instapundit, Kausfiles, and Kos attach themselves for their free rides. (Remoras evolved special sucking disks; bloggers have modems.) If the sharks and whales were to go extinct, what would the blogging remoras do? Evolve into actual reporters?'