Advocacy Journalism and the First Amendment
By Shari Dovale
In today’s world, Main Stream Media (MSM) is not the standard by which most people want their news. The trust of the MSM has dropped dramatically. Citizens rely on the internet, and other alternative news, they feel are more trustworthy.
However, the Federal government, along with their partners in the MSM, would have you believe that all alternative media is (at best) advocacy journalism or (at worst) Fake News. They have a convenient way of forgetting the rest of the story and highlight only the cases that they believe show them in the light most favorable.
Fellow journalists, like Pete Santilli and more recently Gary Hunt, are being persecuted by the Federal court system for their reporting of government overreach. It begs the questions: With a strong First Amendment in this country, why are they being singled out? Why have they been charged?
The government would have you believe that it is due to these reporters ‘changing hats’ from journalist to activist. The court has decided they are worth imprisoning because they lost their fairness and became biased. But where does it clarify this in the First Amendment?
Santilli has spent over 600 days incarcerated, still awaiting trial, because the Federal government has said he went from journalist to activist during the Bunkerville Standoff, claiming he actively participated in the protest in 2014.
Hunt recently was found in Contempt of Court for reporting on informants at the Malheur Refuge protest. Stated by Judge Anna Brown:
“ … the Court concludes Respondent’s actions exceeded any First Amendment privilege protecting a journalist or commentator and crossed over into being a voluntary and active participant …”
The court, in both cases, are stating that they will decide who is, and who is not, covered by the First Amendment. This has raised a dangerous precedent. For the Federal government to define who can and cannot be covered by the First Amendment is giving them unprecedented power.
Advocacy journalism is a genre of journalism that, unlike propaganda, is fact-based, but supports a specific point of view on an issue. Citizen journalism began through activism. Videographers, photographers, legal professionals, and activists, to name just a few, are among those who turned their paths to citizen journalism.
Some would have you believe that advocacy journalism cannot be objective. Advocacy is not the antonym of objectivity. Though reported in the writer’s perspective, advocacy does not automatically rule out the truth.
Main Stream Media (MSM)
The MSM would have you believe that there are standards they adhere to in which citizen journalists do not understand. Hence, the dangers of Advocacy Journalism.
This stance might make you might think that most advocacy journalism is practiced only by alternative media. That would be incorrect. Additionally, there is an argument that the MSM are the worst offenders.
An opinion piece by professor of journalism Bob Steele appeared on CNN.com in 2010. Titled “The dangers of activist-driven journalism”, Steele goes on to explain his concerns “with any and all forms of ideology from the left or from the right and with any argument that attempts to justify activism.”
CNN happily printed this piece and then went on to actively promote their Leftist agenda.
According to records obtained by The Daily Caller, at several points during the 2008 presidential campaign a group of liberal journalists took radical steps to protect their favored candidate. Employees of several news organizations participated in outpourings of anger over how Obama had been treated in the media, and in some cases plotted to fix the damage.
In one instance, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”
This was a major scandal several years ago, in which the Leftist media showed their bias towards the progressive political agenda. Yet the MSM do not consider this to be advocacy journalism?
On September 8, 2004, CBS News, with Dan Rather, broadcast “newly disclosed documents” which indicated George W. Bush may have shirked his duties while in service with the Texas Air National Guard. The intent of the broadcast was to prevent Bush’s reelection by insinuating that he had used his political connections to avoid service in Vietnam.
The story backfired, implicating Rather and his associates in a sleazy political operation, with links to the Kerry campaign, that was intended to mislead and misinform the American people as they prepared to vote.
The First Amendment
There is a pervasive belief, in most American newsrooms, that reporters do not break the law when they break news, even in matters potentially considered National Security. This is where WikiLeaks currently sits.
There is also the issue of Press Privilege, in which most courts have upheld the protection of news sources.
Why then is there a current onslaught of attacks against alternative media journalists? Does the Court have the right to pick and choose who should be covered by the First Amendment?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In looking at the first amendment, I cannot find where it is reserved only for select journalists. It does not restrict citizen journalists, or activist journalists. It does not insist the Federal government define what, or who, is covered. It does not say that you cannot be an advocate for the issue you write about.
We have the right to a Free Press. We have a right to the truth.
It is a Marxist ideology that would incarcerate any journalist for reporting the facts to the public, regardless of their political viewpoint.
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